WORKS: Symphonies Nos. 3-9; Mass in F minor; Te Deum
PERFORMER: Margaret Price (soprano), Doris Soffel, Christel Borchers (contralto), Claes H Ahnsjö, Peter Straka (tenor), Karl Helm, Matthias Hölle (bass); Munich PO & Choir/Sergiu Celibidache
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 5 56688 2 ADD/DDD
EMI has continued with its archival recordings of concerts conducted by the late Sergiu Celibidache, this time those between 1987 and 1995 in the music of Bruckner, a composer particularly revered by the conductor.
The extensive rehearsals he demanded must have been a revelation if the extract from one for the Ninth is anything to go by; he always tried to balance his sound by making each section or individual player aware of how his part fitted into the whole (‘Utmost attention, not to what you’re doing yourselves but to what the others are doing’).
Clarity and balance become highly striking features of his performances, while his tempi will not be to everyone’s taste. Pure magic is the opening horn solo of the Fourth against a shimmer of string tremolo, while later in the movement the brass prove that not all Bruckner’s writing for that section needs to blaze away relentlessly.
His strings agonise in the breathtakingly slow Adagio of the Seventh with each part carefully nurtured, each phrase carefully shaped in its ebb and flow, the climax reached with shattering effect (including the controversial presence of percussion).
In his introspective readings of the Te Deum and F minor Mass, Celibidache makes no concession to the human voice when structuring his Brucknerian architecture; chorus and soloists alike have to cope with the arching phrases and slow speeds as if they were string instruments. Margaret Price is glorious at the end of the Te Deum, while the excellent diction of the choir in both works is an object lesson in choral singing.
Celibidache’s own favourite Bruckner symphony was the Third, and it receives a glowing account, as does the undeservedly less popular Sixth. Apart from Nos. 3, 8 and 9 (all Nowak) the Haas editions are favoured; a glorious asset which should please aficionados of both the composer and the conductor. Christopher Fifield