Financial Times zur EMI - CD Edition
Making of a maestro
on tue special qualities, and personal Dämons, of
a Great conductor.
What makes a Great
conductor? The question has long been a source of
fascination, but it surfaces afresh in two recorded
anthologies, devoted to some of this century's dominant
musical personalities. A Teldec video, The Art of
Conducting: Legendary Conductors of a Golden Era,
offers rare footage of Erich Kleiber, Evgeny Mravinsky
and others exeluded from a 1994 anthology from the
same source. Some of the most revealing extracts
Feature Sergiu Celibidache who is also the subject
of an 11 CD set of recorded material from EMI.
The 115 minute video
is a splicing together of archive films, ranging
from Willem Mengelberg in tue 1930s to Celibidache
in the 1990s. The clips are interspersed wich interviews,
some amounting to hot air (Menuhin), some highly
illuminating (Vic Firth, the Boston Symphony's timpanist),
which attempt to explain the hold exerted by these
conductors on musicians and audiences. But the conklusion
- „what made them different was total befiel in
the music, and total belief in themselves“ - is
misleading because it could apply to many
conductors past and present, not all of whom can
be counted Great.
The value of the
film is the way it brings legendary names to life
in the context in which they excelled: making gesture
in front of an orchestra. Kleiber, tue least flamboyant,
directs a 1932 Berlin Blue Danube of unaffected
elegance. Furtwängler waves his wand in an unexepectedly
precise und vital Till Eulenspiegel. Mengelberg
gesticulates like a mad professor, Karajan preens
himself for tue camera. The film includes rehearsal
shots and other material of documentarv interest.
such as Mravinsky talking about Shostakovich. The
clips of Charles Munch are the most vivid of all,
as much for the speed at which he takes the Daphnis
Bacchanale as for his devilish smile.
But for peopie like
myselve, wo met Mravinsky and Celibidache and can
recall the impact of their concerts, the interest
lies in comparing those memories wich footage of
them as younger, more dynamic personalities. The
video gives a brief glimpse of Mravinsky in his
prime. surveying the Leningrad Philharmonic wich
the grim, tight lipped expression of a martinet,
lt also shows Celibidache conducting
tue Egmont overture wich the Berlin Philharmonic
in 1947 and Till Eulenspiegel at Stuttgart in 1964:
both conjure a personality at odds with the guru
like figure of his later vears. Here on film you
sense his explosive temperament, his passion and
sense of urgency.
Such qualities are
regrettably absent from the EM CDs, which draw on
a private archive of tapes made by the Munich Philharmonic
in the early 1990s - when Celibidache. renowned
for his Opposition to recording, was in his 80s.
Instead ot highlighting his Great ness, they underline
his weak nesses. His Mozart, and Havdn seem laboured;
Tchaikovsky Five and Six are laden with metrical
- rhythmical power, so that tue musical line never
really Takes wing; the Schumann Third and Fourth
symphonies sound stolid, despite the Munich Philharmonic's
exemplary Artikulation; Beethoven‘s Fifth has rare
cumulative power, but is denied the first movement
By conventional standards.
and by the standard of the earlier per formances
on video, these Munich performances are slow. To
some degree this reflects Celibidache's conviction
that sound needs time and space to resonate, that
every instrumental voice must be given its place
as part of a whole. But it also suggests that, in
common with most conductors, there was a slow ing
of reactions as he got older.
By contrast, in Bruckner
and in "colouristic" music, Celibidache's
slowness worked wonders but there is no such music
on the EMI anthology (the exception is Debussy's
Iberia). The triumphs of his last 15 years were
the Bruckner symphonies 3 9, Ravel's Alborada del
gracioso, Fauré's Requiem, Strauss's Tod und Verklärung
and Beethoven's Sixth Symphonv. He conducted them
time and again. Where are the tapes? Why weren't
they chosen? What about record ings of his concerts
with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra in the
1960s and 1970s, some of which were broadcast by
tue BBC? These would be of far greater value.
of Celibidache concerts from the 1950s have long
existed, usually in second rate sound with second
rate orchestras. The EMI anthology gives us an „official"
legacy authorised by the conductor's son, in excellent
sound and wich copious Notes on Celibidache's interpretative
approach, but with no biographical information.
The gains of listening to these CDS must be weighed
against the fact that they contradict Celibidache's
lifelong philosophy: "Music arises out of the
moment, and this moment cannot be fixed ob repeated.
However flawed some
of Celibidache's performances may have been, there
is little doubt that he was a great conductor. But
what defines greatness in a conductor, and why is
it so absent todav? lf Ihe only requirement was
a musicality which spoke to others, conductors like
Solti and Maazel would qualify. But you would hardly
put them in the category of Klemperer, Mravinsky
What the great conductors
of the past had in common was an unshakeable belief
in their view of the music, and in ability to summon
tremendous energy at the moment of Performance.
This surge of energy is not something that even
tempered people can experience. lt indicates a person
wich manic depressive tendencies - someone whose
natural inclination is to hold back, an introvert
who becomes extrovert only through the medium of
an orchestra and the sound it creates. This is the
one high tension situation that aIlows him to break
through his resistanze, and to experience a "high„.
Every great conductor
has been observed to go into a state of high emotion
in great works of music. This emotion cominunicates
very easily to tue musicians, whether they like
the conductor or not, and to the audience; it provokes
a psy chological and emotional response, which surmounts
any objective criticism. It is an expression of
something in the depths of the conductor's personality,
and it builds up only because it has such rare opportunities
to come out.
By its nature, this
rush of energy and emotion cannot find expression
every day - which is why none of today‘s jet-setting
conductors falls into tue category of „Great“. lf
Jansons, Barenboim and Gergiev were Great conductors,
they would not allow their energies to be spread
so thinly. By contrast, Carlos Kleiber who has fulfilled
only a handful of Engagements these past 10 years,
is recognised as great. What kind of performances
would he give, and what would our impression of
him be, if he was guest conducting all round the
World, 100 Konzerts a year?
In the past, conductors
did not move around so much. In his 50 years with
the Leningrad Philharmonic, Mravinsky guest conducted
just once. When he wasn't on the podium, he withdrew
to his dacha to watch the birds and study his scores.
Stokowski, Toscanini, Celi bidache spent most of
their time with one orchestra and had carte blanche
to do what they liked with it. There were fewer
concerts, which meant less scope for routine, which
in turn meant less room for disillusionment with
the conductor. Conductors worked their way up slowly,
they weren't expected to be boy wonders. Concerts
were more of an event.
The political, social
and eco nomie pressures of the modern world have
changed the conditions in which the conductor works.
He has become accountable to too many people. He
must do photocalls and interviews, he is paraded
in front of sponsors and most crucial of all he
is subject to the democratic vote of the musicians.
He must be diplomatic. And if a conductor is obliged
to think of pleasing people, the expression of his
That is why Celibidache
was a great conductor. He was not uni versally liked,
but he was univer sally respected. Whenever an orchestra
invited him to conduct, he set out his conditions
to do the repertoire he wanted, in the
rehearsal time he stipulated and waited till he
got them. And he got them, because there were always
people who recognised he was special.