21 February 2008

Celibidache: Richard Wagner Orchestral Music

Sergiu Celibidache (1912-1996) was a very idiosyncratic conductor. He is known as a slow tempo conductor, which you may or may not like. He insisted on extensive rehearsal time before concerts, a perfectionist to his fingertips.

The orchestral works on this CD are: Vorspiel (Meistersinger), Siegfried-Idyll, Funeral March (Götterdämmerung) and Overture (Tannhäuser). It is the Munich Philharmonic playing, and the CD is recorded from two concerts, held 3 and 4 February 1993.

The Vorspiel to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is played extremely slow. The slow tempi peels off all the nationalism and pompous hallowness this music unfortunately has been associated with. The funny thing is that I got the same impression when I heard Barenboims interpretation in Bayreuth back in '97, but his interpretation was rather fast, transparent and with less bombastic climaxes than the score invites to. Celibidaches interpretation is so slow that I understand those who gets restless. Although I love this extravagant reading, even I felt that rhytm and some of the power was lost on the journey. But Celibidache's concern is not rhytm and the music's connection to the body, if I may put it this way. Celibidache has a philosophical approach. He is in no way flirting with the audiences.

Celibidache is certainly not in any hurry in Siegfried-Idyll either, but this little wonder of sheer beauty is often played rather slow, so the difference is not so noteworthy. It may be the most beautiful interpretation I have ever heard of this piece.

Siegfried's Funeral March (Trauermarsch) from Götterdämmerung is a very fine reading, very grand, very solemn, but at around 6.20 the transparency is lost for grandeur.

The Tannhäuser Overture is not to my taste. Here the music (at least the Venusberg music) calls for juicy intensity. Celibidache lacks the necessary intensity to make the Venusberg music a contrast to the more sacral or pious music associated with the pilgrims and the Christian way of life. Without the ambiguity, something essential is missing - at least for me. It is, by the way, perhaps the "fastest" reading – compared to what we are used to from other conductors.

The first time you listen to the CD, you'll probably get annoyed with the applause introducing the Meistersinger Vospiel. But the 30 second silence (seems like an eternity) before the music starts justifies it. It emphasizes the total commitment and concentration Celibidache obviously demands from himself – and the audience. Apart from the introductory applause and the silence that follows, the other tracks with applause are really unnecessary and annoying.

If you give this CD a chance, I am convinced that you'll find many gems in Celibidache's interpretations. The four tracks are taken from two concerts. And what concerts those must have been!

More on Sergiu Celibidache on Wikipedia

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