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Sergui Celibidache

The Klemperer Legacy

The Klemperer Legacy

The Klemperer Legacy

Classical CD Review - 17 May 1999
Brahms, Beethoven and Varèse

By Eric Taver

PARIS, 17 May 1999 - Of these three handsome box-sets that have recently been released - absolute summits - the one I would most warmly recommend is perhaps not the one to which the potential buyer would most spontaneously gravitate when in his or her favorite record store.

He or she might most likely be tempted to head for the Brahms symphonies recorded by the mythical Sergiu Celibidache. We know that the Romanian conductor, up to his death in 1996, was officially opposed to the idea of making records. For him, the type of listening required of an audience and the type of tension required of his musicians during a concert formed the only possibility of truly appreciating music. In that respect, he was diametrically opposed to Glenn Gould who shunned concerts (which he regarded as a sort of circus) and considered recording as the most authentic means of conveying musical emotion.

This complete set of Brahms symphonies, recorded in concert, certainly helps us to understand Celidache's reasoning, but to the detriment of Brahms's music: it is a succession of moments, often quite beautiful, even of astonishing amplitude (the start of the finale of the Second Symphony). In the concert hall one would perhaps be glued to one's seat, for example by certain passages of the first movement of the Third Symphony, but, on record, one quickly realizes that these moments are quite badly linked to one another. There is a temporal logic in Brahms, a coherent pulsation, inside of which variation is organized. This very classic mastery of tempo, very Beethovenian in fact, does not in the least agree with the succession of moments proposed by Celibidache.

The idea that a single moment can epitomize an entire symphonic movement certainly functions for Bruckner: perhaps one recalls the formidable conclusion of his Fourth Symphony as interpreted by Celibidache on EMI. But it considerably reduces the construction of Brahms's writing. Add to that that the Stuttgart Orchestra is not really in top form, let us even say that it is somewhat below a reasonable standard: what horrible woodwind attacks, violins incapable of sustaining the length of a bow, pitiable brass!

In short, if you want to discover the powerful architecture of these symphonies and not just the few beauties they contain, listen to the Klemperer recordings once again reissued by EMI, in its collection "The Klemperer Legacy".

Anne Sophie Mutter

Beethoven's complete sonatas for piano and violin recorded by Anne-Sophie Mutter and her regular accompanist, Lambert Orkis, as you may have noticed, have aroused controversy, or rather disappointment, among most of the critics. Everyone has stressed that the formidable German violinist is using her head too much, without really taking proper care of Beethoven's text. Transforming the beginning of the "Kreutzer" Sonata into a fantastic exercise in manipulation of sound (from no vibrato to vibrato) gives it a little modern touch (I'm thinking of Ligeti) that one might not necessairly look for when buying a disc of Beethoven's music. And the often gratuitous graciousness of the first three sonatas, the freshness of the "Spring", seem here to be completely forgotten to the advantage of a sort of sonorous high that gives these pages an uncalled-for solidity.

Let's not mention a pianist who should play a role equally as important as that of the violinst: these sonatas were written "for piano and violin" - in that order - while what we hear are sonatas for violin with piano accompaniment. And the accompaniment is even rather pale.

But, friends of the violin, lovers of the violin, idolaters of the violin, don't under any pretext miss one of the most fabulous recordings ever made of your favorite instrument. The extraordinary mastery of Anne-Sophie Mutter, who seems to be able to do anything with her violin, warm as well as cold sounds, from the impalpable to an extravagant depth, is placed at the service of an inventivity that is absolutely inexhaustible. Here each note is a technical prowess and also a stroke of inspiration.

If your primary goal is to discover Beethoven's sonatas, listen to the EMI set by Christian Ferras and Pierre Barbizet who arrive at a perfect balance between clarity and commitment, or be sufficiently daring to listen to the confrontation, very Beethovenian, of two such explosive personalities as Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich (Deutsche Grammophon). If, however, it is the sensuality of the violin, here carried to its paroxysm, that calls out to you, let yourself to be tempted, seduced and carried away by Anne-Sophie Mutter.

Riccardo Chailly - Edgard Varèse

Finally, the most indispensable of the three albums is that, under the leadership of Riccardo Chailly, devoted by Decca to Edgar Varèse. One cannot truly say that this composer born in France who became an American citizen has until now aroused a large audience. But these two CDs should change this attitude. Varèse is incontestably "modern" and probably went farther than all the 20th century revolutionaries - Schoenberg, Webern, Bartók or Stravinsky - in his desire to shake up tradition.

For him, one should make music "with all possible sounds". Before seizing, and among the first to do so, the possibilities offered by electro-acoustic music, he seems to have imagined the transformation of the orchestra into a generator of sounds, rhythms and colors, with no regard for notions of melody, regular pulsation or definite timbres.

Varèse, to feed his imagination, thus uses sounds produced by the city (his Amériques are teeming, strewn with the sounds of sirens and with no connection to such common places as the "wide open spaces"). The percussion alone suffice to build an entire piece (Ionisations), just as do the laws of physics (Hyperprism). Varèse uses sound like a raw material, modulating the textures and density. The colors that he brings out are absolutely unheard of (he gets that from Debussy); and his rhythms do not mark the passing time but rather resolve themselves into convulsions (in this respect, he is diametrically opposed to Stravinsky).

Of the 15 or so works left to posterity by this fascinating composer, Robert Craft (CBS), glacial, and Pierre Boulez (Sony), surgical, have given us exciting but hardly attractive readings. Nagano (Erato) and especially Mehta (Decca), in Arcana, allow us to sense that he possessed a sensuality and the capacity to hypnotise. With this set, Chailly uses the voluptuous colors of the Concertgebouw Orchestra and the flexibility of the ASKO Ensemble to the full and simply plays Varèse like a classic. It is not a question of showing to what point his music is violently new, but to allow it to develop, accepting of course the noises of a large orchestra in Amériques and Arcana as well as the brilliance of the wind and percussion ensembles in Hyperprism and Intégrales.

Never has Varèse's music been recorded with such care thereby rendering tribute to its intense beauty. If we add that music lovers already familiar with the work of the composer will also discover an unpublished work from 1947 (Tuning Up, which parodies an orchestra in the process of tuning up) and an "original" version of Amériques (from 1918-1921), you will understand that this box-set can be regarded as a magnificent portal opening out on to some of the most striking music of the 20th century. Your turn to discover these new territories!

Read Klassiknet's exclusive interview of Riccardo Chailly in Amsterdam.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) :Complete Symphonies.
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra
Sergiu Celibidache (1974-1976), conductor.
Deutsche Grammophon 459 635-2 (3 CD + 1 CD orchestra rehearsal).

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) :Symphony No. 1; Tragische Ouvertüre; Alt-Rhapsodie.
Philharmonia Orchestra,
Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano
Philharmonia Chorus
Otto Klemperer, conductor.
EMI Classics : The Klemperer Legacy, CD 7243 5 67029 2 9.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) :Symphonies No. 2 and 3
Philharmonia Orchestra,
Otto Klemperer, conductor.
EMI Classics : The Klemperer Legacy, CD 7243 5 67030 2 5.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) :Symphony No. 4; Akademische Fest - Ouvertüre
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) : Ouvertüre: Genoveva; Ouvertüre: Manfred
Philharmonia Orchestra,
New Philharmonia Orchestra (Schumann Ouvertures)
Otto Klemperer, conductor.
EMI Classics : The Klemperer Legacy, CD 7243 5 67031 2 4.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
The 10 Sonatas for Piano and Violin
Contredanses WoO 14 nos 4 and 7. Minuet WoO 10 n° 2 (arrangement Mischa Elman).
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violon), Lambert Orkis (piano).
Deutsche Grammophon 457 619-2 (4 CD). CD plus score

Edgar Varèse (1883-1965) :The Complete Works
Sarah Leonard (soprano), Mireille Delunsch (soprano)
François Kerdoncuff (piano), Kevin Deas (bass), Jacques Zoon (flute)
Men of the Prague Philharmonic Coir
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
ASKO Ensemble
Riccardo Chailly, conductor
Decca 460 208-2 (2 CD).

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