Classical: CD Choice

BRUCKNER: SYMPHONIES NOS 3-9; MASS NO 3; TE DEUM SOLOISTS, MUNICH PHILHARMONIC CHORUS AND ORCHESTRA / SERGIU CELIBIDACHE RECORDED LIVE 1987-95 EMI CDCS 56688-2 (12-CD SET)
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The Independent Culture
THIS HAS to be the greatest Bruckner symphony set ever released. The Romanian-born Sergiu Celibidache was a studio-shy mystic whose final concerts were legendary, whose penchant for broad tempos infuriated some listeners and enraptured others, whose career was pitted with petty controversy and whose Bruckner performances were akin to religious experiences.

The initial volume in EMI's "First Authorised" Celibidache Edition charted mixed repertory from Haydn to Bartok, illuminating some works and distorting others, but here one appreciates the benefits of slow breathing and high architecture. This second set is, in a word, sensational.

"Celi" believed the Third Symphony to be the first manifestation of Bruckner's "great, spacious, broad-plane thinking" and he conducts it accordingly, lending the finale's echo effects new-found nobility (they too often sound as if the orchestra has fallen out of synch).

Likewise, in the Fourth Symphony's finale, which drives towards the heavens until the light blazes through. Celi knew the virtue of patience, and a rehearsal sequence for the Ninth Symphony (included here) illustrates his fastidious approach. His delicate ear and intuitive feeling for the internal workings of a score transform the Third Mass, the Fifth Symphony's Adagio, almost all of the Seventh Symphony and every note of the Sixth into virtual new music. Why? Because he sidesteps the interpretative cliches that have shackled Bruckner's music over the last hundred or so years, from Wagnerian excitability to heavyweight posing.

What makes these performances so special is their clarification of Bruckner's "small print", minute but significant details which others sidestep in the interests of the grander effect. Celi's Bruckner can sound like chamber music one moment, and like an aural cataclysm the next, especially in the Eighth and Ninth Symphonies. No composer suited Celibidache's style of conducting better than Bruckner, and no corpus of recordings honours his memory more truthfully.

Rob Cowan

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