30 May 2012

The legend lives on -- thanks to historic Celibidache video recordings

There is a legendary ephemeral laser disc/VHS much talked about in the circle of Celibidache fans.  The length of the performance of this Seventh Symphony of Bruckner at more than 86 minutes was once the longest on gramophone records, until 2007 when Toshiyuki Kamioka usurped it with a reading of stupendous length (at 91 minutes). However, apart from the length, I found nothing else in Kamiola's recording that surpasses Celi's.

The occasion on which this Celibidache concert took place was historic. Celibidache's last concert with the Berlin Philharmonic before he left this orchestra was on 29 November 1954. Between the end of WWII and the death of Furtwängler on 30 November 1954, Celibidache gave at least 414 concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic, compared to Furtwängler's 222 and Karajan's mere four. Those were difficult years in post-war Germany and Celibidache had managed to help the Berlin Philharmonic to restore its former high artistic standard. Thus, no one will find it hard to envisage that Celibidache was sorely disappointed when Karajan was appointed Furtwängler's successor. He left Berlin and her world famous orchestra. He was to return to conduct this orchestra only after almost 38 years. It is a very long period of time in the career of a conductor.

This historic return to the Berlin Philharmonic was filmed by Sony and released on laser discs/VHSs soon after the performance. But they were difficult to come by. At that time some of my friends even thought that its existence was only a myth. I have listened to this concert on a pirate copy and, to be honest, although I could not prove categorically that it was from this historic concert, I firmly believed that it is from Celi, with all his trademark touches throughout.

The legendary reunion concerts with BPO

That this concert could materialise at long last was the result of the work of the then German President Richard von Weizsäcker who wrote a letter dated 9 Nov 1990 to Celi congratulating him on the success of his recent Japanese tour with the Munich Philharmonic, and sincerely asking him to consider a reunion with BPO. Thirteen days later, Celi replied that it would be his great pleasure to accept the President's invitation.

The time and venue were then fixed to be on 31 Mar and 1 Apr 1992 at the Grosser Konzertsaal, Schauspielhaus Berlin. As Philharmonie Berlin started its renovation in Apr 1992, the concerts could not be performed there. This would be a benefit concert for children in Romania.

According to reports, Celi demanded 6 rehearsal sessions for the single work in these two concerts, Bruckner's Seventh Symphony. So much rehearsal time was unusual for a work the BPO was so familiar with, but they were ready to oblige him this time.  The result was fruitful to both, with final mutual understanding evolving from the initial skeptical exchanges. (Euroarts 2011408)

10 Nov 1985

Another eagerly awaited DVD (Arthaus Musik 101639) is another famous Celibidache concert, on 10 Nov 1985 on the opening of the Gasteig in Munich. Not surprisingly it is also a Bruckner concert, of Symphony No. 5. An alleged recording of this concert was issued by Audior in 1997 (AUDSE-523-4). It was a spellbinding experience, I'd say.

Together with the 2 sets of DVDs mentioned in my previous post, we will soon be enjoying 4 sets of Celibidache DVDs. It is a veritable treasure trove for Celi fans, in time to commemorate the centennial of Celibidache's birth. This 100th anniversary was celebrated in Romania and recognised by UNESCO.

P.S. Günter Wand, who was born in the same year as Sergiu Celibidache, is not graced by Germany with an anniversary celebration in such a scale, or at all. Nevertheless he is deeply honoured in my heart as much as Celibidache.