Sergiu Celibidache: The Complete RIAS Recordings, 1948-1957 = Works of GERSWIN, RAVEL, BUSONI, CHERUBINI, HINDEMITH, GENZMER, COPLAND, TIESSEN, SCHWARZ-SCHILLING – Audite (3 CDs)

by | Jul 18, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Sergiu Celibidache: The Complete RIAS Recordings, 1948-1957 = GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue; RAVEL: Rapsodie Espagnole; BUSONI: Violin Concerto in D Major, OP. 35a; CHERUBINI: Anacreon Overture; HINDEMITH: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra; GENZMER: Concerto for Flute and Chamber Orchestra; COPLAND: Appalachian Spring; TIESSEN: Hamlet Suite, Op. 30; Salambo Suite, Op. 34a; Symphony No. 2, Op. 17; SCHWARZ-SCHILLING: Introduction and Fugue for String Orchestra – Gerhard Puchelt, piano/ Siegfried Borries, violin/Gustav Scheck, flute/ Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/ Sergiu Celibidache – Audite 21.406, (3 CDs) 70:12; 80:48; 65:15 [Distr. By Naxos] *****:
When Sergiu Celibidache (1912-1996) assumed directorship of the Berlin Philharmonic in 1945, the world and the orchestra were in sorry state of turmoil and delayed recovery.  Chief conductor Wilhelm Furtwaengler, who had accepted an invitation to Switzerland from Ernest Ansermet, suffered a political ban on further musical activities by the Allied forces investigating wartime allegiances.  Leo Borchard, filling in for Furtwaengler, became a fatal victim of an Allied bullet when he violated curfew regulations. Celibidache had both to rebuild a ravished orchestra and its impaired morale, he had to reinvigorate a repertory severely damaged by twelve years’ neglect by a repressive regime that had blacklisted any number of compositions as “degenerate art.” Now, RIAS opens its archives to restore the live post-wartime performances Celibidache led that rehabilitated the German spirit through its revitalized premier musical organization.
The music of George Gershwin, had by nature to suffer exclusion by the Nazi regime for its Jewish composer and its jazz influences. The performance with pianist Gerhard Puchelt (b. 1913) from 20 October 1948 all-Gershwin concert proves entirely idiomatic, with wailing clarinet, bluesy horns and no end of interior rubato. The Ravel Rapsodie espagnole (14 October 1948) made such a sensation for its fervid sensuality that Celibidache became instantly identified as a master of the “impressionist” school of music. Though Celibidache despised such epithets, he does exact a shimmering visceral gloss from his players, blending every nuance of color and rhythm into a febrile brew of erotic languor. The Iberian sensibilities mix with Celibidache’s Mediterranean temperament to form, in the Feria movement, a colossal bacchanalia of vivid impulses unrestrained and exotically intense.
The 1897 Busoni Violin Concerto from 9 May 1949 with concertmaster Siegfried Borries (1912-1980) became a commercial record–also available on Nuovo Era CD–which, along with versions by Adolf Busch and Joseph Szigeti, stood alone to represent this little-known facet of Busoni’s more lyrically romantic output. Borries’ tone resembles the nasally thin, fast-vibrato of Szigeti, and his conception easily compares to that Szigeti left on CBS disc with Thomas Scherman. The concerto follows the Mendelssohn model, linking the first two movements, and the last is a brilliant tarantella-style Allegro impetuoso. The BPO trumpets and tympani give us a fine pageant at the end of the first movement.  The 1803 Cherubini Anacreon Overture (7 March 1949) had an appeal to conductors Toscanini and Mengelberg, and Celibidache sees it as a natural showpiece for his ensemble. Given the explosive virtuosity of the ensemble, more is the pity we do not have the remainder of this concert, which included Tchaikovsky’s B-flat Minor Concerto and Casella’s Symphony, Op. 63. Sonic reproduction for the period, by the way, is remarkably clear and pungent.
The 1945 Hindemith Piano Concerto (5 September 1949) conforms to the three-movement Classical structure, its first movement a rather percussively rhapsodic “Moderately fast” designation. Pianist Puchelt heard here had given the world premier. A stunning climax clears the way for the meditatively moody cadenza, brittle and glittering. The brilliant filigree segues into the orchestral tissue for flute and piano colloquy that moves inexorably through dreamy sequences to the bluesy coda.  The “Langsam” movement projects expressive power that culminates intensely in layered stretti and repeated block chords that thicken over a fierce tympani part and under high flutes. Hindemith bases his last movement “Tre Fontane” on a medieval dance to which he affixes and varies a Canzone, a March, a Valse lente, and a Caprice. The opening piano riff once more assumes a jazzy flavor than spins out ostinati to which woodwinds and strings add colors. The March sequence proves nothing less than sensational, a veritable Hindemith orgy of sound that breaks off into a gloomy waltz with an improvised air about it. Eerily skittish, the Caprice frolics in angular colors, a sort of antique Italian dance but skewed by modern harmonies and aggressive impulses.
The 1944 Flute Concerto by Harald Genzmer (1909-2007), a Hindemith pupil, offers an idiomatic and substantial work (9 December 1950) for flute and small orchestra, airy and lyrical. Flute virtuoso Gustav Scheck (1901-1984) had also established himself as a master of Baroque style. His lovely tone arches and sings in harmonies that occasionally bow to Debussy’s famous Syrinx. The last movement takes its rhythmic cue from Debussy’s nocturne “Fetes” and transforms it into a tarantella with a stealthy secondary tune. The surprise comes in the form of a thoroughly energetic, “American” Appalachian Spring (4 April 1950) of Copland, the 1945 ballet’s syncopations electric, the affect both athletically luminous and tragic, as if Koussevitzky were leading the BSO.  Visceral, inspired, this performance never sags, feverishly conveying the Pennsylvania house-raising and the interplay of erotic forces as an elemental eternal balance of life-affirming energies. On my initial audition, I hated to hear it end.
Heinz Tiessen (1887-1971) had been Celibidache’s composition teacher, having composed music for Hamlet in 1919 specifically for a Max Reinhardt production in Berlin. The three-movement concert suite of 1922 includes a storm scene prelude set high on the ramparts of Elsinore, a human tempest scene without wordless chorus. The death of Ophelia presents an extended intermezzo, an elegy that leads directly into a death march. Chromatic without having ventured into atonality, the music seems a natural extension of the color palette of Richard Strauss, perhaps more polyphonic and laden with extreme tensions. The 1923 Salambo Suite (7 October 1957) derives from music conceived for the dancer Lucy Kieselhausen. The two-part concert suite came at the suggestion of Celibidache in 1956 for the composer’s birthday concert. Each of the two parts subdivides into three sections, set in Carthage after the First Punic War as the priestess Salambo tries to rescue the city. The music communicates extreme urgency and free dissonance, through which polyphony melodies manage to arise like the phoenix from searing flames. Salambo’s lover Matho suffers torture and death, vividly depicted in passionately dark colors and “mechanical” percussion. The model for Tiessen here seems to be Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite. The death of Salambo has more conventionalized romantic conceits, including a plaintive first violin. This dance, too, becomes busily aggressive, a Celibidache tour de force. Tiessen’s 1912 Symphony No. 2 takes its motto, “Die and Become!” from Goethe’s idea of Blissful Yearning. The four-movement work remains within an accessible harmonic syntax that offers melody and romantic sensibilities while utilizing polyphony freely. The second movement, Lebhaft bewegt, quite expands the nostalgic impulses, the chromatically thick orchestration redolent in the manner of Reger or even Scriabin.  The slow movement heaves with sighs in low strings until a martial pulse exerts itself and raises the tone to ceremonial dimensions. The brief last movement, Presto, moves fiercely, punctuated by horns, wailing woodwinds, and ripe tympanic thuds and riffs.
Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling (1904-1985) provides more music (11 April 1949) neglected by the Berlin Philharmonic, this a full string orchestra arrangement of the composer’s 1932 String Quartet in F Minor. This world premier performance exudes forceful passion and romantic mystery. Highly expressive, the two movements teeter on the verge of atonality but do not follow Schoenberg and prefer to remain plaintive or anguished within conventionally dark harmonies. The Fugue avoids a strictly “learned” sensibility and gathers polyphonic momentum through emotionally striking means, similar to the power of the music of Gottfried von Einem, fertilized by Bach and Bruckner. For a musical picture of the cultural life in Berlin after WW II, this splendid set proves invaluable.
N.B.: The low humming heard during live concerts between 24 June 1948 and 12 May 1949 occurs due to airplanes in their takeoffs or landings at Tempelhof Airport, part of the so-called Berlin Airlift.
–Gary Lemco

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