The ninetieth birthday
of Carlo Maria Giulini, which occurred
earlier this year, has been marked in
contrasting ways by different labels.
EMI, with whom he was associated for
many years, issued a fascinating and
excellent compilation of his recordings
with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Shamefully, both CBS/Sony, for whom
the maestro recorded towards the end
of his career, and DG, with whom he
had a much longer association, have
so far not marked the anniversary in
any way whatsoever. With due respect
to EMI, who had many studio recordings
on which to draw, I think the palm has
to go to BBC Legends. They have already
issued two celebratory releases of live
broadcasts and now complete the hat
trick with another mouth-watering collection
of examples of Giulini at work.
With two symphonies
to consider I hope I’ll be forgiven
if I pass quickly over the Rossini overture.
Suffice to say that it’s a delightful
performance. Interestingly, the piece
was played not, as is usual, to start
a concert but at the end of the programme
Dvořák symphony is my favourite
in his symphonic output. In particular
I relish the mix of generous lyricism
and hints of darkness in the music.
Giulini brings out both aspects splendidly.
Thus, the glorious introductory melody
with which the whole work begins is
shaped and moulded with style and just
the right degree of loving care. The
main allegro has a beguiling freshness.
Throughout the first movement and, indeed,
throughout the whole piece, the various
instrumental voices are balanced with
At the start of the
slow movement the Philharmonia strings
play with great richness of tone. The
critic Michael Steinberg has drawn comparisons
between this movement and the funeral
march of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.
I’m not entirely sure I go along with
this but there is a definite element
of sadness and Giulini brings this out.
Under him the music glows darkly. The
central dramatic section (CD 2, track
3, 6’35" – 7’36") is urgently
done, typical of the conductor’s ability
sharply to characterise the music where
The enchanting third
movement is, in Steinberg’s memorable
phrase, "full of melancholy chromatic
droops." This account of the movement
is most engaging and here, as elsewhere,
the playing of the Philharmonia is splendidly
responsive. The set of variations that
forms the finale largely exudes a feeling
of well being and this performance is
vivid and enthusiastic (some may feel
the trombones are just a shade too enthusiastic
at times.) In summary, this is a fine
reading of this wonderful symphony and
I enjoyed it very much and will return
to it often, I’m sure.
fine though it is, the performance of
the Dvořák is put in the shade
by the account of Bruckner’s Eighth.
With this reading Giulini inaugurated
the Philharmonia’s 1983/4 concert season
and I can only describe it as
an Event. The following year he went
on to make a recording of the same work
for DG with the Vienna Philharmonic.
After hearing this present performance
I looked up a review in Gramophone by
Richard Osborne of that VPO recording.
Osborne offered the following assessment:
"It is an immensely long-breathed
performance yet it is of a piece with
itself and the music it serves. It is
a reading that is suffused from start
to finish with its own immutable logic.."
In my view that judgement applies equally
to this present performance. Giulini
uses the Nowak edition here, as he did
in his VPO performance. Though the notes
are silent on this point I am sure it’s
the Nowak edition of the 1890 score
rather than that of 1887.
The first movement
is noble, dedicated and expansive. Every
paragraph seems to follow its predecessor
with a seamless inevitability. From
the outset the playing of the Philharmonia
makes a deep impression, especially
the splendid warmth of the strings and
the golden tones of the brass choir.
The climaxes are as powerful and majestic
as you could wish but never sound forced
in any way. Time and again we experience
Giulini’s care for balance and texture.
Let me mention one tiny point. As the
imposing final climax of the movement
is built at 14’44" we hear just
for a couple of bars a short but telling
little phrase on the horns. I’ve lost
count of the number of times I’ve heard
this symphony but I’ve never remarked
that detail before. Yet, it is brought
out in a way that is neither distracting
If I have a reservation
about this performance it concerns the
pacing of the scherzo. The chosen tempo
is quite deliberate, firm and measured.
I have to say that there were a few
passages (for example 2’48" – 4’00")
where I felt a bit more forward momentum
would have been desirable. The trio
is exquisitely sculpted.
I have no reservations
whatsoever about the reading of the
great adagio. This huge movement is
at the very heart of the symphony in
every sense. Giulini conceives it on
an expansive scale, drawing the long
lines beautifully. The playing he obtains
from the Philharmonia is nothing short
of world class (sample the passage between
2’02" and 2’52".) From start
to finish the reading is characterised
by beauty and nobility. The great climaxes
grow organically, with complete naturalness
and are all the more effective as a
result. This is the work of a master
conductor, directing proceedings with
total concentration and conviction.
A rapt account of the closing pages
(from 22’43") sets the seal on
a truly outstanding performance of this
The finale opens, as
it should, in majesty. Giulini is not
afraid to linger in some of the more
lyrical passages but he is always persuasive.
There is an abundance of power in the
tuttis (e.g. 6’45" to 7’37").
Some may feel that the fugue at 19’28"
is a bit too smoothly voiced but I think
Giulini gets away with it. The long
build up to the final peroration (from
22’13") is hugely impressive in
its patience and cumulative power.
In summary, this is
a wholly dedicated and masterly performance
by a great conductor at the height of
his powers. As I said earlier, this
performance was clearly an Event and
I would have counted myself privileged
to have attended it – as the audience
clearly did to judge by their applause.
Now, thanks to BBC Legends, this great
traversal of Bruckner’s supreme masterpiece
is widely available for us to savour
and marvel at.
The sound in all three
performances is very good (the Rossini
is in mono) and there is a useful note
by Alan Sanders chronicling Giulini’s
long relationship with the Philharmonia.
For all collectors
who appreciate greatness in the art
of conducting this is an unmissable
set. I recommend it with all possible
enthusiasm and I just hope that BBC
Legends will continue to give us splendid
Giulini offerings such as this long
after the celebrations for his ninetieth
birthday year are over.