Tuesday 26 February 2008

Celibidache conducts Sibelius

A colleague, having spotted my passion (should that read obsession) for Sibelius, passed on to me a disc conducted by Sergiu Celibidache (sufficiently difficult to obtain that no picture will accompany this post, since it would necessitate either a camera or a scanner). The disc, when it was available, was on DG with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and pairs the second and fifth symphonies.

The second opens slowly and gently and while somewhat lacking in bite, it is fairly lyrical. The orchestra playing is fine enough and Celibidache finds some nice textures, though he is never in any danger of straying into Bernstein territory in this regard. However, I would like a little more tension than he brings; neither does he find the grandeur or sweep of some accounts. The transition into the andante is well done and it is much the same, but perhaps with a little more tension. Celibidache does seem to build a cumulative effect which makes his interpretation grow on me. The vivacissimo is a lot brisker than I would have expected from what has come before, the more so as he is not a conductor renowned for fast pacing. Indeed, it is rather fraught at times, and then alternatively very sedate. In my view, Celibdache doesn't quite make this contrast work. The tension built in the lead into the finale is a shadow of what it can (and in my view, should) be. He opens sedately - where is the epic vision that other interpreters find here, the melodrama? However, there is a rather special tenderness in the slower, quieter moments and he builds to a fairly dramatic close. But the movement is spoilt by a tendency to let go just a bit too much tension each time he slows down. If only the full forty minutes could have had the drama of the final four.

The fifth is much more successful. Finely played from the slow, majestic start onwards. Celibidache brings, what I can only poorly describe as a 'lurching' style to some of the big chords that works very well and the result is altogether more gripping than the second. This is thrilling. There is no shortage of tension. The lyrical and gentle playing in the andante is beautifully phrased but there is no loss of drama (he produces some wonderful surges). The tension is built well. There is a fair amount of electricity to the opening of the finale, but it doesn't quite feel on a par with what has gone before. The main theme emerges a little slowly for my liking but the reading remains compelling and the final few bars are absolutely thrilling, and yet spoilt at the last by the last two chords being rather underwhelming. And that's a real shame since this fifth is so close to being a superb reading, and but for those two chords it would be. I know it's unfair to judge a work on two chords (and I don't, this disc is still well worth tracking down), but these two are rather important, to me, at least, important enough to stop it from greatness.

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