Classical Reissue Reviews

BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor – Vienna Philharmonic/ Sergiu Celibidache – Wiener Symphoniker

A rare document from the Vienna Symphony archives, a reading by a still-developing Sergiu Celibidache in the Brahms C Minor Symphony, a reading of more persuasion than sheer epic power.

Published on December 13, 2012

BRAHMS:  Symphony No. 1 in C Minor – Vienna Philharmonic/ Sergiu Celibidache – Wiener Symphoniker

BRAHMS:  Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68 – Vienna Philharmonic/ Sergiu Celibidache – Wiener Symphoniker WS 002, 45:58 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

The Vienna Philharmonic has begun issuing its own label, and its second disc features the idiosyncratically brilliant and frequently irritating Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache  (1912-1996) leading a Brahms First from 30 October 1952, live from the Konzerthaus Vienna. Celibidache had assumed the directorship of the Berlin Philharmonic after World War II, since Wilhelm Furtwaengler had been relieved of duties pending de-Nazification hearings. Leo Borchard, who had stepped into the post, had been killed accidentally in August 1945.

Biographers claim that the 1949-1952 period proved crucial in Celibidache’s spiritual development, in that his teacher: Heinz Tiessen’s introduction of phenomenology into Celibidache’s musical perceptions completely altered the conductor’s approach to performance practice. Contemporary accounts of the concert here presented fix upon the “intensification” and “lyricism” of the orchestral response and the “rhetorically compelling” gestures of the conductor himself. Generally, Celibidache adopts a less “tragic” or “monumental” stance than his contemporaries Furtwaengler, Klemperer, and Jochum from the same period. While the Muse clearly sets his sights on Beethoven’s Ninth as the guiding force behind the dark propulsion of the outer movements, the singing quality of the passions infiltrates the two interior movements, particularly the violin solo of the Andante, the entire Un poco Allegretto e grazioso, and the bucolic elements that open the last movement Adagio’s alphorn sequence. Within a rather strict literalist tradition, Celibidache finds moments for persuasive romanticism and subjective nuance. Despite one flub in the French horn early on, the molding of the phrases rebounds in the last movement, especially as we enter the realm of the chorale theme so often likened to Beethoven’s prototype. The last bars indeed ascend to the heroic ethos, and the audience responds warmly to a conception at once architectural and emotionally vibrant, that delicate balance achieved by a conductor still in his formative evolution as an interpretive artist.

The contemporary critics noted Celibidache’s “thin, elegant demeanor. . .not without a certain demonic temperament. . .he is really much more than just a theatrical conductor.” We must concur that we have in this sound document the idea of the visonary artist himself as a “work in progress.” Good sound for the period, though a bit muted-sounding for audiophile tastes.

—Gary Lemco




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