Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Celibidache's Bruckner

Sergiu Celibidache is a divisive figure. On one hand, there are those that feel that he was a lucky fraud - spouting insane nonsense about music and stretching his tempi to the point where every movement was a slow movement. On the other, some think that he was one of the greatest conductors of all time. After all, this was the man who succeeded Wilhelm Furtwängler, during his excruciating de-Nazification.

Celibidache, insofar as he can be said to have had a specialty, was a Brucknerian. There are two competing "cycles." EMI and DGG both have his "recorded" output. Deutsche Grammophon has his earlier work and EMI has stuff from his Indian summer in Munich. One must remember, though, that he hated recordings more than Furtwängler. He felt that it was impossible to capture music on tape and have it retain any of its essence. His children, though, have wisely decided to allow some recordings to be released.

Of the EMI outings, his Bruckner 4th is considered one of the finest readings ever given to this score. He has Klemperer, Von Karajan, and Böhm to compete with, though. Celibidache has far more in common with Klemperer, at first blush, than with the younger conductors. They both run about ten minutes longer and they both favor broader tempi. However, where Klemperer fashioned monumental recordings out of a single block of granite, Celibidache seems to build them brick by brick.

Celibidache allows for the slow to be slow and the fast to be fast. The contrast between the end of the Andante quasi Allegretto and the Scherzo is clear and illuminating to say the least. Can he be broad? Absolutely. Can he be brisk? Certainly. At least in the 4th, he modulates his tempi with skill and precision. Is this one of the great ones? Yes. It is everything really great about Bruckner. The grandiosity is balanced by quiet spirituality. Celibidache builds a cathedral of sound, and it works. He might not succeed elsewhere, but he comes off brilliantly in the 4th.

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