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DVD Review

Anton Bruckner

Sergiu Celibidache and the Mass in F minor in Rehearsal

Margaret Price, soprano
Doris Soffel, alto
Peter Straka, tenor
Matthias Hölle, baritone
Hans Sotin, bass
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus/Sergiu Celibidache
Arthaus Musik 100251 DVD 60min
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No fan of the late Romanian-born conductor Sergiu Celibidache will want to be without this DVD, in spite of its obvious drawbacks. It was recorded in 1993, and it contains rehearsal and performance excerpts of Bruckner's ground-breaking Mass in F minor, the work that – following mental illness, and preceding all but the first of the numbered symphonies – virtually formalized Bruckner's career as a great composer.

Unsurprisingly, "Celi's" reaction to this grand work for soloists, choir, and orchestra is deeply personal. The DVD shows him leading piano and orchestral rehearsals, and in the actual concert, which took place in the Stiftskirche St. Florian, where Bruckner spent his childhood and young adulthood. We immediately feel the force of Celi's leadership, which, as it is revealed to us, is sometimes cajoling, sometimes forceful, always "parental," and never tyrannical. Even in these brief excerpts, we can feel his uncanny understanding for both the technical and the spiritual aspects of musicianship. We also feel his genuine love and respect, not just for the music, but also for the musicians, particularly the members of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra.

Celi was unparalleled in his shaping of orchestral sound, and the comments he makes most often on this DVD pertain to the fine-tuning of orchestral and choral balances. Other comments frequently pertain to phrasing. Celi's mysterious directives also are present on this DVD. He was known to make requests of his musicians that made no sense at all to the uninitiated. For example, on this disc, he frequently asks the orchestra to play "deeper." Don't blame the English translation of Celi's German words; when he uses English to speak to soprano Margaret Price, he can be similarly abstruse. Another of Celi's obsessions was the consideration of the physical space in which a work was to be performed; almost immediately, we see him rearranging the musicians and recalculating his plan of attack from the podium, once the rehearsals at the Munich Philharmonie have given way to those at the Stiftskirche.

As this is neither a complete performance of Bruckner's mass, nor a exhaustive examination of Celi's podium methods, it is possible to complain that this DVD is neither fish nor fowl. It is moving and enjoyable, however, on its own terms. It is also a perfect documentary for the non-specialist, yet interesting for the specialist too. This probably is a good time to mention that the performance is incandescent, with inspired and inspirational work coming from everyone involved. This DVD probably will make you want to hear the complete work immediately. Fortunately, there is a live recording of the same on EMI Classics with the same musicians, so there's no need to hold back. The rehearsal footage looks a little grainy. (The LPCM Stereo sound is wonderful, however.) The menu and subtitles are in English, Japanese, French, and Spanish. Separately programmable "trailers" of Arthaus's DVDs of Berlioz's Damnation of Faust and Penderecki's Seven Gates of Jerusalem are welcome additions, not just filler.

A great experience is to be had here, even if it is not a complete one.

Copyright © 2002, Raymond Tuttle