These are live recordings
made by West German Radio, Cologne. I donít know if an audience
was present; thereís no applause and no audible audience noise.
On the face of it this CD offers a most attractive proposition
with two great artists caught in concert. However, there are
one or two important caveats.
Oddly, the two recordings
sound rather different. The Mendelssohn concerto seems to be
set in a very resonant acoustic Ė too resonant, in fact. In
particular the bass booms on my equipment. This surprised me
since Iíve heard other recordings made in this venue and I havenít
been bothered by resonance. Intriguingly the Debussy performance
didnít seem to be affected to the same degree Ė perhaps the
presence of a much larger orchestra dampened the acoustic?
The other problem
I have with the concerto is that the speed adopted for the first
movement is on the slow side. This lends a romantic, almost
ruminative atmosphere, which is attractive in some ways, not
least because Zukermanís violin sings so sweetly, but Iím not
sure if itís really in the spirit of this work. For me, Mendelssohnís
delightful concerto needs more buoyancy and sparkle. As the
first movement progresses things lighten up somewhat Ė perhaps
at the soloistís instigation? Ė but the essential lilt and lightness
never quite seems to be there. The wonderful moment at the end
of the cadenza when the main theme reasserts itself under the
soloistís passagework comes off well enough but elsewhere the
orchestral support is just a bit too heavy and rich. The last
five minutes or so of the movement are lively, even ardent,
and I wondered whether it was at this point that Zukerman decided
to take the performance by the scruff of the neck. If so, was
it Giuliniís view that prevailed earlier on?
In the gorgeously
lyrical slow movement Zukerman spins a lovely line. His singing
tone is absolutely suited to this music and, happily, the pacing
is much more satisfactory. At the start of the finale Zukerman
skips along impishly and much of what follows is very good but
once again Iíd have enjoyed the performance even more if it
had possessed just an extra degree of lightness and caprice.
As it is, this is a good but not great performance of this delectable
As I indicated earlier,
the performance of La Mer is less affected by acoustic
resonance, though the orchestral bass is still somewhat heavy.
In the first movement I admired Giuliniís typical care over
detail and the light and shade that he brings to the music.
In his hands Debussyís score has a warm, Mediterranean feel.
However, there were occasions, such as the lead in to the final
peroration, when I felt he was prone to linger just a little
At the start of
the second movement, as we hear thematic fragments on various
instruments, I was again conscious of the resonance of the hall.
There seems to be some distance between the players and the
microphones. Giulini directs a sensitive account of the movement,
although as the music gathers momentum around 5:00 I did wonder
if there was sufficient sense of sweep and passion. The harp
tuning was a little too democratic in the closing pages. The
finale receives quite a powerful performance. Giulini invests
the music with a degree of weight and some of his tempi are
on the broad side but not so much as to rob the music of forward
momentum. The conclusion is noble.
As ever, a Giulini
performance is thoughtful, fastidious and completely musical.
Over the last few years Iíve been delighted at the number of
live recordings by him that have become available. Even if one
doesnít agree with every detail of one of his performances,
he is always very well worth hearing. So it is with these two
performances. I canít help but have a few reservations and Iím
not sure we hear the great Italian maestro at his very best.
That said, these are still performances that are valuable overall
and Iím glad to have them in my collection.