, November 2012
The HD picture—upgraded from the standard-def original—is pretty sharp and the colours are true. More important the sound has a penetrating warmth that ravishes the ear and batters the heart. The horns and brass are especially well caught, and there’s some wonderful flute playing too. Günter Wand’s live Berlin account for RCA—recorded in 1999—has similar amplitude but it has harder edges and more thrust; by contrast, Celibidache finds a degree of inwardness and vulnerability here that’s deeply affecting. And in the movement’s final, multilayered peroration—where the music ‘gathers to a greatness’, as Hopkins would have it—Celi is sans pareil.
The Berliners surpass themselves too, playing with a commitment and passion that’s rare these days. There’s a lyrical intensity and singing line in this Adagio that will take your breath away, and those dark, plangent brass chorales would make the angels weep. At times this band sounds like a giant chamber group; they’re alive to the subtleties of internal balance and move seamlessly from one long-breathed phrase to the next. It really is a wonder to behold, with every strand of this great score laid bare in the most convincing and organic way. It’s a long movement, and there is a hint of longueurs towards the end, where even the camera’s eye is tempted to rove the hall.
Really, that’s a small price to pay for music-making of this calibre, aided and abetted by sound of astonishing range and fidelity. Indeed, the sonics here are among the very best I’ve encountered on Blu-ray, and they put some recent discs to shame. Every timbre is most faithfully rendered, each fragment heard without recourse to the kind of audio trickery that mars so many filmed concerts. Rodney Greenberg’s direction is invariably discreet and well-informed; in fact it’s a model of its kind, with only the compromised framing a reminder of that dubious decision to go wide.
I usually have to force myself to watch these ‘bonus tracks’, but this hour-long feature by Wolfgang Becker is more illuminating than most. It dips into Celi’s career with the orchestra after the war and hints at the politics that separated them in the 1950s. The archive footage shows a young man of flamboyance and gypsy good looks who also had quite a temper. Much of Becker’s film is dedicated to conversations with older members of the band and rehearsal clips for the Berlin Seventh.
It’s a measure of this conductor’s forensic understanding of the score—not to mention the Berliners’ collective skill—that this music can be so carefully picked apart and reassembled with such precise and astonishing results…this is a telling—and affectionate—portrait of a man in his twilight years, yet still possessed of a riveting intellect and powerful podium presence. Now if only all ‘extras’ were this interesting.
A uniquely satisfying Seventh; a must for all Brucknerians. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review