Brahms: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Rehearsal sequence

WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Rehearsal sequence
PERFORMER: SWR Stuttgart RSO/Sergiu Celibidache
CATALOGUE NO: 459 635-2
EMI’s final set of discs from Celibidache’s years in Munich (1979-96) is joined by DG’s from the 1970s when he was in Stuttgart. The common denominator is Brahms, and immediately Celibidache’s painstaking methods of achieving internal balance and setting one tonal colour off against another through deliberate tempi are clear to the ear. His revelatory approach is unique, his speeds slower than one is used to but the result is that the ear has so much more time to focus either on a particular section or instrument in the orchestra, or on any one of the contrapuntal strands in the music. With this controlled approach there is sometimes a sense of restraint and a tendency to underplay accents or sudden dynamic changes, but it is never dull, rather always a kaleidoscope of sound. EMI includes Brahms’ German Requiem, and while some of the intonation in the sopranos and woodwind chording is uncomfortably flat, it remains an absorbing account for sheer drama with powerful timpani in ‘All flesh is as grass’ (as in the opening of the first symphony), and angelic singing by Auger. There’s a thought-provoking Beethoven ninth from EMI. The scherzo is very steady, the finale has mixed success. Jerusalem goes wildly for a top B flat, the various sections for the chorus often begin uneasily but the end is thrilling.


If ever a composer calls for a conductor of Celibidache’s skills it is Schumann, whose second symphony was a particular favourite judging by the immaculate playing of the MPO in its two trios, while his last concert (two months before his death in August 1996) features a virile yet subtle performance of Beethoven’s second. The DGG rehearsal of the first movement of Brahms’ fourth symphony, in heavy Rumanian-accented German, is worth every second as he instructs his players to listen to one another, to play “with Italianate hecticness yet Germanic feeling”, a relentless insistence on rhythmic accuracy, and a continual analytic awareness of the music as they play it. Frankly no conductor alive today rehearses that way or would be allowed to do so. He is sorely missed.