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SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8; DVORAK: Symphony No. 9  – Munich Philharmonic/ Sergiu Celibidache – Munich Philharmonic Archive

SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in b minor, D. 759 “Unfinished”; DVORAK: Symphony No. 9 in e minor, Op. 95 “From the New World” – Munich Philharmonic/ Sergiu Celibidache – Munich Philharmonic Archive MPHIL0004, 74:12 (6/16/17) [Distr. by Warner Classics] *****:

The orchestral alchemy of Sergiu Celibidache resonates by way of this first release from the Munich Philharmonic’s label. 

Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache (1912-1996) assumed the conductorship of the Munich Philharmonic in 1979, and he remained with the ensemble until 1996. The orchestra itself has launched its own label, which means that a huge component of their archives will make accessible a powerful legacy of this conductor’s work in concert performances. The pairing of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony (30 September 1988) and Dvorak’s New World Symphony (16 June 1985) marks the initial release; and the readings instantiate Celibidache’s repute as a master of orchestral color, whose demanding—even manic—rehearsal standards brought forth readings of intensely concentrated thought and unbridled passion.

Comparatively speaking, the less eccentric performance lies in the Schubert symphony, which suffers neither colossal inflation nor exaggerated, slow tempos. The focus bears on Schubert’s instrumental coloring of superb melodies, moving in gracious, dramatic character. Schubert abandons conventional sonata-form in his first movement, opting for repetition of themes or some variation that involves sudden outbursts of inflamed energy. Celibidache saves his more explosive gestures for the E Major Andante con moto, investing a tragic girth and resignation into its unfolding and resolution. More often than not, the Munich Philharmonic produces the kind of organ tone that Stokowski courted in the glory days of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Dvorak’s New World Symphony has here a reading that testifies to both Celibidache’s association with Wilhelm Furtwängler in Berlin and his own fascination with musical phenomenology. The tempos indeed evolve quite slowly and deliberately; and not since Ferenc Fricsay’s two recordings—with RIAS and with the Berlin Philharmonic—have I heard the music narrated with such patience. That Celibidache can sustain the Largo movement for the better part of 17 minutes without sag of tension remains its own minor miracle. For sheer orchestral sheen, the individual instruments rise up in glorious Technicolor, such as the cor anglais in the second movement. Even beyond the leading principal, the pizzicato strings and supporting winds gurgle and hum in bucolic ecstasy.  Admittedly, some listeners will lose patience with Celibidache’s mannered approach; but as a “deep song of the people,” this reading may well mark a model of its kind. The diminution of sound that Celibidache exacts for the “string quartet” moment late in the movement achieves the intimacy of a folk cradle song.

The last two movements “revert” to more conventional tempos, rife with rhythmic and color vitality. The tympani in the Molto vivace Scherzo wants to remind us of Dvorak’s veneration of Beethoven’s Ninth.  The Trio section has, among other qualities, a definitely erotic affect. In the Poco sostenuto section, the quality of the cadences retains a dance character from both Negro music and the Czech countryside. The interchange between bassoon, oboe, flutes, and pulsating strings bears the Celibidache magic. The brilliant Allegro con fuoco finale, too, enjoys masterful touches in the cymbals, woodwinds, strings, and brass, with special resonance from horns and trumpets.  At moments, the quality of a hurdy-gurdy intrudes into the more “serious” color mixture on an epic scale. That Dvorak can maintain his exquisite melodic line and still manage periods of strict counterpoint must nod to the Brahms influence.  The layering effect, however, bespeaks the conductor’s own extraordinary penchant for Bruckner. The tender affection present in the latter pages—listen to the bassoon part within the context of shimmering strings and “hunting horn” motifs. Celibidache builds a fierce peroration prior to the return of the emphatic tympani part and the subsequent dissolution of the texture—so Dvorak can introduce his patented “and so my children” postlude. The absolutely heroic stunning final page begets a long silence before the bewitched Munich audience can release its gratitude.

—Gary Lemco

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