Celibidache Conducts Berlioz – DVD

0 of 5 stars

Symphonie fantastique, Op.14

Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI
Sergiu Celibidache

Filmed in 1969

Reviewed by: Paul Cherry

Reviewed: May 2007
OA 0977 D
Duration: 58 minutes



The picture is good quality black-and-white; the filming is gratifyingly straightforward; the sound is well re-mastered mono. Sergiu Celibidache stands on a two-tier podium just a little too distantly from, and rather high above the orchestra; he looks aloof. But what playing he obtains from an orchestra that wouldn’t be regarded as first-rate. He was a regular in Italy – the radio orchestras there, and the one in Stuttgart for that matter, were able to grant the lengthy rehearsal time he demanded. Celibidache (1912-96), before his exploratory Munich Philharmonic days, draws playing of the utmost refinement and poeticism from the Italian band; Celibidache, a master of dynamics and colour, and of not forcing either the mechanics of music-making or the pace of music itself, distils an account of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique that is painstakingly prepared, full of life and incident and of genuine Romantic impulse.

There is also, conversely, an attractive spontaneity to the playing here, a sense that the musicians have been so well prepared that they can now perform without stress and uncertainty. How refined the playing is, how sensitive to emotion, dynamics and tonal shading; and yet how active, vivid and communicative the execution also is; a wonderful story is being told in the most expressive of terms. There are commentators who can only bang on about Celibidache’s ‘slow’ tempos; well, speeds are here pretty close to the ‘norm’ and only the third movement, ‘Scène aux champs’, may tax ‘impatient’ listeners’; those with open minds will hear rapturous beauty that never stagnates and always has direction. The 19-minute timing may suggest slowness (in comparative terms) – but the ear determines that everything here is convincingly right. How superbly variegated it is; every note seems to have its own identity and each is manifestly part of the grand design.

The deliberate tempo of ‘March to the Scaffold’ is also spot-on; if only Celibidache took the repeat in this movement it would be a real ‘giant’ (but he usually paid little attention to going through expositions twice) and if every detail of Berlioz’s score is not presented with lurid immediacy, then Berlioz’s notation is all still there to be heard – it’s just not served up on a plate! That said, the tame bells in the ‘Witches’ Sabbath’ finale should be darker and more prescient, and if the drive of this movement is occasionally sacrificed for the sake of articulation and clarity of inner detail, then such musical consideration brings its own rewards. The speed-up at the end doesn’t quite come off though, the timpanist being a casualty, but it does mirror some of the conductor’s fluctuating tempo changes during this movement.

Celibidache did not like recording – although he made more studio recordings than Misha Donat alludes to in his extensive booklet note (although Donat does make a “to the best of my knowledge” qualification) – yet films of Celibidache’s concerts and rehearsals as well as CDs of broadcasts are now legion. Thankfully! This Berlioz film documents a very revealing performance – enlightening of the composer and the conductor. I thought I heard a few boos mixed in with the applause – but then most things Celibidache conducted had their detractors!

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