ORFEO International – Reviews

Important Releases Briefly Introduced

February 2009

ORFEO 5 CD C 725 085 R

Sergiu Celibidache

Even today Sergiu Celibidache (1912–96) continues to enjoy the reputation of a revolutionary genius, a conductor uniquely capable of realizing his interpretations without making the least concessions. It was a reputation that accrued to him not only during his early years in Berlin and in the final stage in his career in Munich, but also in the late 1950s, when he spent just over two years as permanent guest conductor of the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra (now the West German Radio Symphony Orchestra of Cologne), a period which, in spite of his well-known aversion to recordings, is extremely well documented in the form of the tapes held by the Archives of West German Radio. C 725 085 R
C 725 085 R
These recordings, released with the active participation of the Sergiu Celibidache Foundation, convey a fascinating impression of the conductor’s concert repertory at this time. For what we find here is not just the monumentality familiar from other recordings by Celibidache such as those of Ravel’s Ma mère l’oye and the Second Daphnis et Chloé Suite and Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony (“Pathétique”), but also an abundance of the youthful passion remembered from his earlier career, allowing him to highlight the virtuosity of the different instrumental groups in Boris Blacher’s Orchestral Variations on a Theme of Paganini. But Celibidache also proves to be the best possible champion of another, older contemporary, Paul Hindemith, an advocacy due to his matchless flexibility and wealth of imagination: these qualities can be heard in Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis after Themes by Carl Maria von Weber. In comparison, classics of the avant-garde such as Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and Richard Strauss’s Don Juan could have sounded almost conventional if they had not been performed with the perfection found in the present recordings. With his ability to tame and train an orchestra, Celibidache was invariably fired by the sheer musical force of these powerful, iridescent works, while never allowing himself to be swept away by them. And there is something almost magical about his ability to coax from the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra such a wealth of unprecedented colour and nuance in three Romantic works: Schubert’s Second Symphony and the overture to Die Zauberharfe and Mendelssohn’s concert overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Listeners keen to hear Celibidache in a vocal work – a field that he rarely explored – will be pleased to encounter his recording of Brahms’s German Requiem. Like the same composer’s First Symphony, it features in a new five-CD compilation of Celibidache’s work on the Orfeo label and attests to the conductor’s great affinity with the north German composer. The vocal soloists in the German Requiem are Agnes Giebel and Hans Hotter, and the choir is the Cologne Radio Chorus.