is something of a feast for Giulini fans. The package offers
the first general release of this recording of Brahms’ Fourth
Symphony, some choice fillers, and a bonus CD which covers
Giulini’s entire life and career.
Overture has all of the eloquent passion of the great
conductor – the musical message is potent and clear, but
the recorded performance betrays its age a little: those
thin-sounding oboes are as much a giveaway as black and
white film, and the wind intonation is fairly appalling
in one or two sections, loath as I am to criticise a band
which contains one of my old flute teachers, Gareth Morris.
oboes carry on in the Variations on a Theme by Haydn,
but while the stereo separation in the strings is a little
artificial the Abbey Road recording is good enough. I’ve
always had a soft spot for this piece, and it’s nice to hear
how easygoing and urbane Giulini could be where the music
required – of course with no let up in detail with phrasing
and attention to all those important inner voices. The Vivace variations
V and VI are pretty spectacular, with plenty of bounce and
wit in the latter. The beautiful seventh variation is elegantly
restrained, and this entire performance is attractive in
its direct, unmannered unpretentiousness.
meatiest chunk on this issue is of course the Fourth Symphony,
which was made in 1969 at the time of Giulini’s inauguration
as Principal Guest Conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Richard Osborne suggests the possibility that, with Giulini
being “neither traditionally Italian nor characteristically
German” in his approach as being at least in part responsible
for the recording’s neglect after its initial appearance.
It was never re-released on LP, and this being its first
true CD release will be essential listening for many collectors.
Osborne also mentions the “occasionally problematic” Medinah
Temple acoustic, and indeed the orchestral sound is rather
generalised, at times seeming a little distant, as though
one is listening from an upper balcony. The ear adjusts to
such things however, and Giulini’s reading is immediately
inspired and involving.
had to get out a few comparisons, and turned first to my
1983 cassette box of the complete Brahms Symphonies conducted
by Leonard Bernstein, bought at a time when we thought tapes
were wonderful because you didn’t have to change sides so
often or worry about grit and scratches. Bernstein’s live
recording has a drive and energy all its own, with more immediate
impact and certainly greater dynamic range. His narrative
is however more overtly romantic. Giulini seems better able
to hold onto the longer line, while at the same time losing
nothing in the more intimate passages. Bernstein is on top
of every note, wringing all of the expression from soloists
and sections, but as a result occasionally ending up a little
leaden-footed in the transitions and overly perfumed in the
is almost impossible not to have a look across at one of
Deutsche Grammophon’s comparable mid-price reissues, Carlos
Kleiber in 1980 with the Wiener Philharmoniker on ‘The Originals’ – so
original that there is no filler whatsoever, giving us under
40 minutes of just the Symphony. This is a grand performance
however, and there will be schools of thought and opinions
on all sides. Sir Simon Rattle argues the case for Giulini, “He
has brought something to the recording of that piece which
one only normally feels in the communion of a live concert.
It is one of those performances in which you feel the musicians
are playing not the notes but the story of their lives.” Richard
Osborne (him again) bats for Kleiber’s performance: “… a
thing apart… at one fierce, noble and austere…” In comparison
one does have the feeling that Kleiber has the better orchestra,
certainly one for whom Brahms lived and breathed – one which
only needed a conductor like Kleiber to come along and lift
the lid on all that Austrian glory. This is not to take away
from Giulini however. His is a slightly different magic – humanist
and earthy, even almost operatic at times. Where Kleiber
is the mystic magician you sense Giulini somehow has the
is a little tape damage on this recording, with funny gargling
horns 1:33 into the first movement and some little distortions
here and there. There are one or two bumpy edits as well,
but on the whole the sound is very good, and collectors need
fear no hair-shirt experience coming over their speakers.
bonus disc is a documentary on Giulini’s life and career
adapted from ‘Giulini at 90’, a tribute made by the WFMT
Radio Network in collaboration with EMI Classics. Giulini
himself contributes, with extracts from an interview made
in his own studio in 2003. There are some fascinating musical
illustrations, tributes from musicians who worked with him,
and interesting insights into how Giulini’s career developed,
and on conducting technique and interpretation.
has to be seen as a valuable addition to the catalogue. Time
has shown that Giulini’s Brahms interpretations have every
bit as much to tell us today as when they first appeared.
Referring to the close of the finale, but equally relevant
to the entire recording Richard Osborne sums it up very well
and saves me the effort of trying: “…an enchanted homecoming,
as joyous as it is unaffected.”
EMI Great Recordings of the Century