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Considering this conductor’s antipathy to making
commercially accepted recordings, it’s obvious that the
“Celibidache Symphony Series” released by the
Opus Arte label is valuable. However, numerous “live”
recordings of his concerts are available, such as the one
I recently watched from this series of Hector Berlioz’
“Symphonie Fantastique,” recorded for television in Italy,
during 1969. In this case, Sergiu Celibidache led the
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI in a performance
filmed in black and white, and released on DVD during 2007.

As Misha Donat mentioned in his excellent essay
accompanying this DVD, Celibidache (1912-1996)
often performed with radio orchestras because
“. . . the circumstances of their employment
allowed them to offer greater rehearsal
time.” His desire for additional rehearsals linked
Celibidache to other meticulous maestros, such as
Günter Wand and Carlos Kleiber. Often, the results of
this painstaking process could be revelatory or at the
very least, interesting.

In the case of this performance of Berlioz’ most
famous work, I’d say Celibidache achieved a
combination of both. He was known for his unusual
choice of tempi, which was often on the slow side.
However, I’ve found that these slower tendencies
were just a part of the musical picture, particularly in
larger works requiring the unfolding of episodic drama.
On many occasions, these slower sections were
counterbalanced by faster ones, thereby bringing a
dramatic sensibility to the work. These penchants for
tempi fluctuations were reminiscent of those imposed
by Wilhelm Furtwängler.

For example, Celibidache took most of the first
movement at a slower than normal tempo, and repeated
this practice during the fourth movement of the piece,
the “March to the Scaffold.” In contrast, he accelerated
the tempi at the end of the symphony. When you
consider that the “Symphonie Fantastique” is nothing
if not dramatic, my point is that these tempi choices can
and often do pay big dividends. As Donat mentioned in his
essay, the slower tempo of the “March to the Scaffold”
reflects the “. . . gravity of the situation” quite effectively,
and I wasn’t bothered by it. In fact, I felt it was a nice
change of pace, both literally and figuratively.

Where orchestral textures are concerned,
greater clarity is another dividend of slower tempi.
It’s amazing what I could hear from different parts of the
orchestra when things were slowed down a bit. Another
consideration was that Celibidache maintained that his
tempi choices and matters of orchestral timbre and
textures were dictated by the acoustics of the
performance venue. He felt that clarity was of paramount
importance, thereby avoiding the “jumbling together”
of notes which could occur if the tempi were too fast.
In short, Celibidache put a lot of thought into the
process of music making.

On this occasion, the Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino
della RAI responded to Celibidache’s wishes, producing
an interpretation which worked on its own terms. I’m not
going to attempt to “rank” this performance in relationship
to the numerous other recordings, which I believe would
be disrespectful to everything Celibidache stood for as a
musician. This concert needs to be watched as a document
of a specific performance, captured at a specific point in time.

The digitally remastered, two-track mono sound was
decent, and the camera work was typical of the era.
In addition to his aforementioned essay on Celibidache,
Donat also wrote an informative essay on the history of
the “Symphonie Fantastique,” which should be read.
This was a fascinating document of a performance led by
an inspired and often controversial conductor, and I highly
recommend this DVD.