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