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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Concert Music for Strings and Brass, Op. 50 (1930) [17:50]
Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70 (1884-5) [38:11]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Egmont, Op. 84: Overture (1809-10) [9:53]*
New Philharmonia Orchestra, *London Philharmonic Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini
rec. Royal Festival Hall, November 1969 and *May 1975
BBC LEGENDS BBCL4194-2 [66:59]
Experience Classicsonline

Even diehard Giulini fans are likely to find these rough-and-ready performances heavy going. The conductor has realized his broad, rather studied musical conceptions more or less successfully in the studio, but apparently it's not so easy for orchestras to muster the required concentration under concert conditions.
Giulini would seem an unlikely fit for Hindemith's sometimes astringent idiom. Indeed, in Part One, he recognizes, and takes care to set up, the music's important arrival points - such as that at 0:51 - but seems at a loss as to how to shape the phrases in between, which sound like random busywork. The brass were having a bad day: their very first unison attack, nervous and out of tune, is a dispirited raspberry, and the low chords at 2:32 move heavily. Things pick up with the broad string phrases beginning at 6:53, from which Giulini draws a sort of stoic passion, and the final chords are suitably grand. The conductor finds the broad, arching lines, motor rhythms, and occasionally luminous string textures of Part Two more congenial. The trombone solos at 3:20 and 6:42 sound sour and out of sorts, but the bold, full-bodied brass attack on the coda at 7:37 is effective.
In the Dvořák symphony, an emphasis on tonal weight and mass makes the first movement seem broad, though the tempo as such isn't particularly slow. Some listeners will want shorter, crisper string articulations, and more air between the notes generally, but Giulini puts enough energy in the attacks to put across the music's taut drama, and the relaxed pace easily accommodates the lyrical second theme. There are problems of execution - the horns' whoop at 1:53, while apropos, is overblown; the development grows increasingly nervous - creeping gradually to a more conventionally driving pace - and even unkempt at the tricky landing at 5:36.
The Poco adagio begins nicely, with Giulini somehow eliminating the edge of the opening wind chorale: the contours are as smooth as they would be in a string passage. Unfortunately, here the players start to show signs of fatigue. The clarinet-horn interplay at 3:57 is clunky and insecure, and the music never quite recovers its broad line, emerging as a series of discursive, sometimes bombastic episodes. Giulini paces the Scherzo well, but the theme's sinuousness only fitfully emerges, and in the tutti statement at 1:42, the woodwind countermelody is swamped by the banging, unsubtle strings and brass. In the Finale, the relaxation into the second subject sounds imposed rather than organic; more damagingly, the sound reproduction, with every tutti subject to breakup, renders this heavily scored movement a particular trial.
The performance of the Egmont overture isn't ideally neat, but at least the piece plays to Giulini's strengths. The conductor draws maximal expression from the slow introduction: the opening chords are powerful, the oboe solo plaintive, the string answers sombre. After a patient buildup, the main Allegro is not particularly fast; some will want more thrusting attacks on the accented tutti chords, but the motifs are shapely and Giulini maintains a tensile line. The summoning horn chords at 7:09 are flatfooted, the same motif in tutti at 7:31 rather heavy. The Presto tempo is correctly proportioned to the Allegro, and Giulini again infuses the line with plenty of thrust.
Giulini recorded the Dvořák symphony for EMI in the mid-1970s, and his Concertgebouw concert performance from that same time has also turned up on disc; but it's been years since I've heard the studio recording, and I've not heard the concert account. Those wishing to investigate Giulini's way with Dvořák should track down his DG studio recordings of the Eighth and New World, with the Chicago Symphony -- much more angular and probing than his cosmetically refined EMI accounts. The present album is strictly for Giulini Compleatists.
Stephen Francis Vasta


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