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Carlo Maria Giulini: Classic Archive
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)

Pictures at an Exhibitiona (1874) (orch. Ravel) [32’44].
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550b (1788) [24’24].
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)

El sombrero de tres picos (1919) – Suite No. 2b[13’20].
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Les Vêpres siciliennes – Overturec (1855) [10’07].
aPhilharmonia Orchestra, bcNew Philharmonia Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini.
Rec. aWatford Town Hall, London, on March 3rd, 1964, Fairfield Hall, Croydon, on bDecember 2nd, 1964, cJanuary 12th 1968. Also includes rehearsal sequence of Guido Cantelli rehearsing Rossini’s Semiramide Overture with the Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, filmed in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, in 1950 [3’47].
EMI CLASSIC ARCHIVE DVA 4901149 [84’20]

 

Giulini has always carried himself with a certain dignity and authority. For those of us who have only seen him in his later years, this DVD comes as something of a treat. With the finest UK orchestra of the time at his disposal, Giulini achieves some remarkable results.

His Pictures, from Watford in 1964, positively shines with character, right from the clear-toned trumpet ‘Promenade’. The strings have depth and a rapier-like attack (just be aware that there is some congestion in the recorded sound). In ‘Gnomus’, Giulini emphasises the grotesque - and how good to see his eyes on-camera. Watching him in concert from the back, one was unaware of the fire they held. Not so here. He encourages his soloists to great things – try ’The Old Castle’, where a reedy but smooth bassoon leads to a smooth sax solo.

Tempi can be on the slow side (‘Tuileries’, ‘Ballet of the Chickens emerging from their Shells’), but this is always for the sake of precision. Care is always in evidence, for example in the carefully-graded crescendo of ‘Bydlo’. Some individual contributions should be mentioned – the miraculous muted trumpet in ‘Samuel Goldberg and Schmuÿle’, and the timpanist in ‘Baba-Yaga’ who plays with such abandon. The brass section excels throughout, emerging as simply resplendent in ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’. The whole orchestra gives an impression of sheer unstoppable power in the closing moments. A memorable experience.

The Mozart and de Falla items date from December of the same year. The venue is changed to Croydon.

The Mozart is fascinating. Giulini gives a very slow upbeat – just how did the players get the speed from him? But they did, and the tempo is certainly not what we would call Molto allegro today (and there is no repeat). But this is compelling viewing nevertheless. Not a single gesture from Giulini is awkward or even sudden, attributes that surely contribute towards the gentle and lovingly-sculpted success of the slow movement (violas to the right side of the conductor). Only in the finale are juxtaposed contrasts allowed to tell, creating a new dynamic. As for the three pieces of the Three-Cornered Hat, the clean rhythms and Giulini’s underlining of the vibrant orchestration make for a breath-taking experience (the high-voltage festivities of the final ‘Jota’ are edge of the seat stuff!).

Giulini brings a characteristic sense of grandeur to the Sicilian Vespers overture. A pity that the dry acoustic robs the long cello tune of some of its expressiveness, but it is surely a small price to pay for a performance that includes moments of unbelievable beauty as well as infectious dance-like passages within the space of a mere ten minutes.

The ‘bonus’ (DVD manufacturers seem to love this concept) is Guido Cantelli, no less, in rehearsal with the Scala orchestra at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. It is much more of a play-through than a rehearsal proper, with Cantelli indulging in sudden crouches for subito pianos. The sound is crackly and distorted and much detail is lost, yet the source still retains the superb string shading.

Heartily recommended to all students of conducting and to all lovers of the (New) Philharmonia (the renaming of the orchestra is explained in Richard Osborne’s excellent notes). This is one of the best Pictures I have heard and it is for this, above all, that this DVD is most valuable.

Colin Clarke



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