Those familiar with my reviews on Amazon know of my love for the "Great Conductors of the 20th Century" series. With a recent batch of six releases (Reiner, Toscanini, Furtwangler, Karajan, Kubelik and this title of Celibidache), the series now has a total of 40 volumes. And while the "Great Conductors" website claims that 60 releases will eventually be made, it is hard to imagine that this series is not concluding with these six big name conductors. What is also a shame is that while all of these releases boast "rare and previously unreleased material on CD," most of the last six sets have, inevitably I suppose because of these conductors' popularity, lots of material that has been readily available on disc for years.
Fortunately, I haven't collected Celibidache recordings as I have the other five so for once there is nothing on this title to duplicate my collection (amen!). Frankly, I have steered away from Celibidache not because I don't appreciate his art or his opinion that classical music is best heard in live settings and not via studio recordings on home stereos, but because I really don't know where to begin with the man. I am not the type of collector (nor do I ever hope to be) who has umpteen live performances of a given conductor on my shelves, and to really appreciate Celibidache, it seems that is who you would have to be. Personally, I find this quite ironic, since the conductor would most certainly frown upon the practice of listeners repeatedly analyzing past performances via recorded media, but alas what other choice is there after his passing in 1996.
I will not even begin to comment on the CD's live selections as I have no idea whether these represent the conductor's best efforts -- simply put they are enjoyable. But what I liked best of all were the selections capturing him in rare early studio performances -- 1948 accounts of Mozart's 25th Symphony, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Excerpts and Prokofiev's "Classical," and a Mendelssohn "Italian" from 1953. (It was in that same year that Celibidache made his very last studio recording -- the Brahms Violin Concerto with Ida Haendel, an amazing rendition thankfully available on CD from Testament.) I may be in the minority, but for me, these are the set's highlights. In all, the "Great Conductors of the 20th Century" has been a delightful, if not definitive series. Here's hoping that IMG/EMI do indeed stay with their original plans for 60 titles by releasing another 20 -- Bernstein, Davis, Dorati, Galliera, Haitink, Jochum, Kertesz, Kondrashin, Krips, Lehmann, Leinsdorf, Marriner, Martinon, Paray, Sargent, Sawallisch, Silvestri, Steinberg, Solti and Stock would all be deserving recipients.