Symphony No.9 in D minor
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI
Filmed in 1969
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2007
CD No: OPUS ARTE
OA 0976 D
Duration: 62 minutes
When Sergiu Celibidache conducted Bruckner 9 in Munich with the Philharmonic in 1995 he took around 77 minutes over it, a considerable advance over the ‘average’ timing. That remarkable and convincing account is preserved on an EMI CD release. But timings are mere statistics; similarly lasting performances of any piece of music can be totally different. In 1969, in the same symphony, Celibidache took just under one hour for the journey. Neither performance is better than the other.
Captured in decent picture and sound (black-and-white and mono), Celibidache motivates one of the Italian Radio orchestras to some inspirational playing. It isn’t always perfect, but it is assured, characterful and committed. Preparation is of a very high order. Some listeners may find this too homogeneous an account of Bruckner’s unfinished symphony, his farewell to life. Maybe the scherzo is too deliberately paced and not spiteful enough and maybe the climaxes of the first movement lack granite; yet there’s no denying the beauty of much of it and the honed response to Bruckner’s harmony and scoring. The intimate passages of the first movement are devotional, the trio scampers by, and the slow (and final) movement is deeply eloquent and rapt.
What also stands out, leaving aside Celibidache’s concern for beauty of sound, is that this is an emotionally turbulent symphony; fluctuations of pulse, especially in the first movement, make this evident. Above all, though, are two towering qualities: one is that however concerned Celibidache is with the sound and intensity of any one bar (and he is) the mission is that it should fit into one long chain (the scope of the symphony, in fact), and for all that the overall timing is conventional (60 minutes), the sense of space that is established still makes this seem a time-less account, one that is anything but ‘normal’. Such compelling music-making does indeed exist outside of time-beating and clock-watching. ‘Serene’ is the word I have been searching for.
This fascinating document helps with the Celibidache jigsaw, a controversial and divisive musician, and this is a Bruckner 9 that on its own terms is absorbing.