Celibidache in Caracas 1956 = BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37; RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18 – Judith Janes, piano (Beethoven)/ Albert Ferber, p. (Rachmaninov)/ Venezuela Sym. Orch./ Sergiu Celibidache – Archipel ARPCD 0543, 75:34 [Distr. by Allegro] (1/28/14) ***:

“There is no miracle in music, only work.” The maxim of Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache (1912-1996) applies to a long legacy of painstaking devotion to his musical performances, many of which remain spontaneously refreshed in spite of laborious – and often expensive via rehearsal time – preparation. Archipel revives two appearances by Celibidache in Caracas, Venezuela for music he did not otherwise inscribe commercially. The Beethoven Concerto in C Minor (7 November 1956) features Judith James at the keyboard. The usual combination of flamboyance and personal mannerism in the conducting seems negligible, with Celibidache’s providing a deeply honed accompaniment – and occasionally explosive tuttis – for James’s volatile and poetically informed solo. The brass and tympani contribution to the unfolding drama point forward in the sonic patina, the woodwinds pert and alert to the modulations in Beethoven’s transitions. I do wish the audience coughing – their attempt to impose a scene from La Traviata upon the concert – were more subdued.  Among the qualities of Ms. James’s cadenza, along with its might and fleet finesse, comes a sense of the dance, rare enough in bravura playing. Her elongated trill meets the tympani in suave transition, and we throb to the intensely graduated coda with a sense of inexorable destiny laid before us.

A bit of sonic instability intrudes upon the Largo movement, but the tendresse of the E Major song emerges cleanly, with James’s pedaling a decisive factor in the aural patina. Unfortunately, we do hear “street noises” as well as the identifiable creaking of Ms. James’s piano bench. Rarely has the orchestral coda in this movement achieved such a hushed sense of mystery. The last movement Rondo: Allegro projects a breezy, light-handed virtuosity in all particulars, from the James runs and octaves to the often contrapuntal potency of Celibidache’s orchestra. We have the sense of a real dialogue between solo and tutti, each alertly and playfully responsive to the other. The extended coda merely confirms the high-spirited elasticity of the performance, its genial but no less passionate array of dramatic genius available in all principals. The applause goes on for well over a minute, the orchestra’s tapping appreciation along with an aroused audience.

The Rachmaninov Second Concerto (16 July 1956) features a more noted pianist, the Swiss Albert Ferber (1911-1987), who had studied with Leimer, Gieseking, and Rachmaninov himself. A hefty marcato piano solo thrusts the orchestra among us in heated waves of sound, a sea of hothouse passions. Romanticism remains Celibidache’s strong suit, no matter his musical specifics, so this concerto benefits from a pure aesthetic and intellectual commitment. Ferber’s keyboard is well to the microphone front, but with little detriment to the lush accompaniment in the Venezuela strings and winds. The French horn solo carries the nocturnal mood forward, then the strings, all embellished by a lulling series of piano arpeggios that carry us to the decisive, first movement coda. No less beguiling, the intimate C Minor/E Major Adagio sostenuto conveys the Celibidache magic in hued colors, broadly conceived. Ferber, for all us his relative obscurity, establishes himself as a first-rate Rachmaninov acolyte, his pendulum-motion accuracy at the coda as lulling as it is compelling. The flamboyant scherzando opening of the final Allegro Ferber has easily under his hands, and the progression surges to the oboe and viola statement of the familiar “Full Moon and Empty Arms” theme, which Ferber virtually purrs through the keyboard. The modulations from the initial E Major to C Minor and triumphant C Major flow seamlessly but fervently, and the sparks as well as endorphins do fly. The spectacular climax and coda release a torrent of sound from the audience, which Celibidache likely conducted as well.

—Gary Lemco