Schumann
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54
Tchaikovsky
Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, Op.23
Daniel Barenboim (piano)

Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
Sergiu Celibidache

Live performances: Schumann – 15 July 1991, Stadthalle, Erlangen; Tchaikovsky – 28 October 1991, Philharmonie, Munich
CD No: EMI 5574172
Duration: 72 minutes
Reviewed: November 2002
“I never came away from Munich in the same way that I went in.” Daniel Barenboim recalls his regular appearances with Sergiu Celibidache. Celibidache’s sculpting of sound has to be heard to be believed; once you’ve latched on, the dimensions he created are a very special experience.
The majority of official Celibidache CDs (DG & EMI) – following on from plenty of ’pirate’ issues – have concerned his work without soloists. Although his relationship with Michelangeli is well known, it should be noted that during his long tenure in Munich, as well as Barenboim, the likes of Perlman, Norman, Mintz, Heinrich Schiff, Fassbaender, Argerich and Perahia all worked very successfully with Celibidache. He was no doubt difficult at times, yet as Barenboim notes: “If you were on the same wavelength as him musically, he gave you an amount of freedom to play that was very unusual.”
Barenboim was certainly on that wavelength. These are wonderful performances. Although Barenboim speaks of freedom, there’s no doubt that while he is giving of himself, he is also playing under Celibidache’s influence. Celibidache’s incredible blend of sonority, his recourse to soft then softer dynamics, a brushstroke of sound, requires a sensitive and flexible response from the soloist. Barenboim is absolutely with Celibidache and never appears self-conscious or uncertain. In the Schumann, the interplay between Barenboim and the orchestra is wonderfully poetic. Yet there’s nothing effete or underdone. When fortissimo is needed, it’s given, and makes its mark because of the remarkable graduations of tone elsewhere.
One also senses that Celibidache unlocked something in Barenboim that is not always apparent at other times – not only a range of colour and dynamics but a searching into music’s recesses. This is a virtually ideal Schumann concerto – a palpable mix of fantasy and richness – one in which an unusual range of expression is to be heard, so much subtle preparation, so beguiling, so revealing.
The Tchaikovsky is grand and three-dimensional. If you think Horowitz rampaging through this work, or the unimaginative and percussive Kissin, is as good as it gets, then keep reading – horizons should be broadened. Tchaikovsky’s much maligned (if hugely popular) concerto is here not a barnstorming caricature. Barenboim gives the opening cadenza with measure and restraint, much expression and, throughout, the relationship between piano and orchestra is made abundantly clear – blasé soloists and off-the-peg accompaniments do this music such injustice.
There is no lack of bravura from Barenboim, nor any profligate trading of impulse or heft from Celibidache. And before the usual, boring comments flood in about slow tempos, these performances are not extreme in the way Celibidache could undoubtedly be – not a criticism from me, anything but – for there are other recordings that match the timings here. Anyway, the stopwatch is such an unreliable guide to musical actuality. This is long-viewed interpretation (a word Celibidache loathed) with a wealth of felicitations along the way. Some decisions may seem out of kilter with what a “Romantic Piano Concerto” should be – but who’s to say what is normal and what we’re used to is right.
Seeming idiosyncrasies there may be in the Tchaikovsky – they are not gratuitous, rather the result of two simpatico musicians going further than others dare or can. Two extraordinary performances – both in excellent sound (and previously available on a Teldec video) – on one unmissable CD. This partnership's Brahms concertos next?

 

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