“What Celibidache did, and few musicians have the knack to such a degree, is an aggregate of a number of complex subtleties involving:
Fundamental tempi, of course
Phrasing / Articulation – which is a myriad of minute things in itself…. dynamic stresses, dynamic contouring (volume variance note to note within a phrase) – a slightly shorter than written length of a note, typically at the end of a phrase, which “finishes” that phrase.
Agogic accents – often mistaken as only a slight dynamic stress of one note, it can also involve a minute lengthening of the duration of one note within a phrase, or a slightly early or late entry (placement), without sounding incorrect nor skewing the overall value of the note durations.
…and other minutia… overall dynamic balance of parts, dynamic balance of the harmonies, etc.
What the effect can achieve – and Celibidache is so recognized for, is a slower than usual tempo which has a far greater feel and sense of forward momentum than many another rendering at slightly or greater speed.
The works, then, feel like they really move forward inexorably; they are finessed as to cohesiveness of the whole, including those large scale structures like the Bruckner symphonies.
Since the listener really hears everything, all parts, in balance and in their working relationships with each other, the illusion is of greater activity, i.e. more happening over the course of time, which goes back to that quality of a sense of greater forward momentum. Those slower tempi have nothing in any way to do with a sense of more relaxed… all the micro attention to all those details and the concentration involved create a subtle and suspensful tension (also something an audience picks up on) make for a rather intense experience.)
I believe if such a hue and cry had not been made about the speed / tempo he takes, a majority of listeners might actually think his led performances are faster than those other performances which are actually faster – until they afterwards might check the overall running time 🙂
I’ve remarked exactly the same effect, all the same attention to the above named technical elements also in play, in that classic / iconic recording of Prokofiev’s 3rd piano concerto with Gary Graffman, the Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell conducting.
Of course, some conductors among an already remarkable musically intelligent group are that much more musically intelligent, and have more technique and means to communicate what is needed to the players; Sergiu Celibidache was certainly one of those.”
Celibidache’s approach to music-making is often described more by what he did not do instead of what he did. For example, much has been made of Celibidache’s “refusal” to make recordings even though almost all of his concert activity actually was recorded with many released posthumously by major labels such as EMI and Deutsche Grammophon with the consent of his family. Nevertheless, Celibidache paid little attention to making these recordings, which he viewed merely as by-products of his orchestral concerts.
Celibidache’s focus was instead on creating, during each concert, the optimal conditions for what he called a “transcendent experience”. Aspects of Zen Buddhism, such as ichi-go ichi-e, strongly influenced his thinking. He believed that transcendental experiences were extremely unlikely to ensue when listening to recorded music, so he eschewed them. As a result, some of his concerts did provide audiences with exceptional and sometimes life-altering experiences, including, for example, a 1984 concert in Carnegie Hall by the Orchestra of the Curtis Institute that New York Times critic John Rockwell touted as the best of his 25 years of concert-going.
Celibidache was well known for his demands for extensive rehearsal time with orchestras. An oft-mentioned feature of many of his concerts, captured in the live recordings of them, is a slower tempo than what is considered the norm, while, in fast passages, his tempos often exceeded expectations. In Celibidache’s own view, however, criticism of a recording’s tempo is irrelevant, as it is not (and cannot be) a critique of the performance but rather of a transcription of it, without the ambience of the moment, for him, a key factor in any musical performance. As Celibidache explained, the acoustic space in which one hears a concert directly affects the likelihood of the emergence of his sought-after transcendent experience. The acoustic space within which one hears a recording of one of his performances, on the other hand, has no impact on the performance, as it is impossible for the acoustic features of that space to stimulate musicians to play slower or faster.
That his recorded performances differ so widely from the majority of other recordings has led them to be seen by some as collectors’ items rather than mainstream releases, ‘one-offs’ rather than reference recordings.
Images credit: Google Images