Sadly, the sound of this five-disc set of recordings of Sergiu Celibidache is at best mediocre and at worst awful. Taken from radio broadcasts from 1957 and 1958, the monaural sound is dim, gray, cramped, and so lacking in details that many of the inner parts are virtually inaudible. Listeners for whom sound quality is a paramount concern are unlikely to find this set satisfactory.
The set should be of strong interest, though, to anyone who admires the work of Sergiu Celibidache. Recorded with the Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester while the Romanian conductor was still smarting from his dismissal from the Berliner Philharmoniker (Celibidache had lost that post to Herbert von Karajan), these performances have all the hallmarks of Celibidache at his best and least mannered. The selection is amazingly diverse; along with standard German repertoire such as Brahms' First Symphony and A German Requiem are French works like Ravel's Ma mère l'oye, Russian works like Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, modern works like Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphoses, and even then-contemporary works like Blacher's Paganini Variations. The performances are technically astounding and interpretively compelling. Celibidache hears things in the score no one else does, from details of articulation to temporal and formal relationships. There are inner voices aplenty, especially clear in the Allegro con grazia from Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony and the Andante sostenuto from Brahms' First Symphony, as well tempos so unified that even hour-and-a-half -long works like the German Requiem hold together as a single aesthetic inspiration. Celibidache lets the listener hear the greatness inherent in every work here, from Schubert's delightful early Second Symphony to Blacher's seldom-played Variations. When he turns his attention to large-scale masterpieces like the German Requiem, with soprano Agnes Giebel and bass Hans Hotter, the results are positively awe-inspiring. In sum, while the sound of these recordings is antediluvian, the quality of the performances is timeless.