BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor

by | Jul 30, 2007 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor

Performers: Symphony Orchestra of the Turin Radio/Sergiu Celibidache
Studio: Opus Arte DVD OA 0976 D 
Video: 4:3 full screen, Black&White
Audio: PCM Mono
Length: 63 minutes
Rating: ****

Taped in 1969 by RAI Television, the 57-year-old Sergiu Celibidache (1912-1996) cuts a suave, romantic figure on the podium, leading one of his favorite scores, the Bruckner Ninth. The most characteristic gesture is Celibidache’s both arms spread in full extension, the baton hand circling to embrace a colossal phrase, while the left hand adjusts all sorts of nuances and entries. Each of Bruckner’s musical periods in the first movement receives an extremely broad treatment, the forward motion almost coming to a stop. During a martial episode in the first movement, the baton hand stops and the left hand slices in a karate-chop to exhort the string and wind entries. But the trumpet climaxes are huge, so that the camera pulls away to embrace the sound from afar.  The camera likes to insinuate itself into the woodwind open-work, the strings in vibrant pizzicato underneath, while Celibidache nurtures a sustained pedal; in the third movement, he creates a ritard that lasts 20 bars, Bruckner’s theme signifying a “farewell to life.” A terrifying rush of sound, and then the most pregnant silence as Celibidache wends his way to the first movement recapitulation. The sweet ostinati throb as Celibidache caresses and molds the chorale, trumpets blazing for transcendence. Superb misterioso to the coda, with Celibidache in solar flight, a la Dedaelus. A repressed clap or two from the audience, but Celibidache is already preparing the pedal for the Scherzo.

The Scherzo tempo certainly is marcato, three beats to the bar rather than one. The camera shoots along the French horns to the tympani. The soft tympani then collaborates with the oboe, then the flute enters. Two tempos in contrary motion, a device stolen from Schubert, and the huge march rises again, the secondary work in transition fluttering in staccati then pesant to the brass and string stretti. The trio has Celibidache’s left pinky finger keeping the steadiness of the pulse, then  the baton hand takes over to the soft tympani period. A Schubertian laendler warbles forth with bird calls. The phraseology becomes somewhat four-square and symmetrical back to the da capo, which manages an occasional, bucolic swagger. The coda tumbles into an abyss of sound and fury.

No moment to breathe as the gargantuan Adagio unfolds, trumpets in Lutheran glory via the Dresden Amen. At the introduction of the large theme by the cellos, the oboe and flute beneath, a grand serenity pervades the hall. Pantheistic emanations from Nature weave through the desire for signs of eternity, our bespectacled flute having become a ubiquitous presence in the orchestral camera shots. The descending string line, religioso, repeated more darkly, and again the forward motion seems suspended in time as well as space. When the music proceeds, we have intimations from Wagner’s Die Walkuere and Bruckner’s own Mass in F Minor and Eighth Symphony. The chromatic texture intensifies, the ground threatening to sunder beneath our feet. Sudden chromatic descents matched by high flute filigree, and then the graduated mists that bear us to an illuminated E Major. The camera pulls in close to Celibidache, who resists the all-too-soon onrush of applause, firmly gripping his personal fermata.

— Gary Lemco


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