Bruckner: Mass in F minor (CD review)

Margaret Price, soprano; Doris Soffel, alto; Peter Straka, tenor; Matthias Holle, bass; Sergiu Celibidache, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. EMI Classics CDC 7243-5-56702-2.

The late Romanian conductor and composer Sergiu Celibidache (1912-1996) must be the least-known famous conductor of the twentieth century. He brought it upon himself: He refused absolutely to record any of his music, believing that sound could only be "lived and experienced in real space." I respect his principles, but as a result he deprived about ninety-nine per cent of the classical music loving world of potentially great performances. So be it. After he passed on, however, his son helped to select a handful of his father's live taped sessions for release. Among the first issues were Celibidache's Bruckner interpretations, for which he was well known. 

Any Bruckner work is characterized by its nobility, its grandeur, and its intense spirituality. No Bruckner offering could be more endowed with these qualities than his Mass in F minor. And these attributes are exactly what Celibidache delivers, using the 1881 Robert Haas edition. In some ways the conductor's approach is similar to his contemporary, Herbert von Karajan. There is always the grand gesture.

Sergiu Celibidache
But I felt a more profound sense of the sublime with this Celibidache recording than I usually get from the more bravura performances of Karajan. Celibidache's timing is that much more sweeping, the hushes more extended, the tempos more expansive. His broad view of things can nowhere be better found than in the big, central "Credo," where we find everything from the quietest whisper of a note to a full, fortissimo chorus, each punctuated with the greatest warmth of expression. 

By the time it's over, one must be in awe of both composer and conductor. But one thing that didn't impress me overmuch was the sound. It is rather antiseptic. There is clarity, to be sure, in this 1990 recording but at the expense of richness and sonority. The upper midrange is bright and often brittle, especially in massed vocal passages. I wouldn't let this deter one from buying the disc, though, if only for the experience of discovering a man so well known and so little heard.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa