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Carlo Maria Giulini - The London Years
Philharmonia Orchestra, New Philharmonia Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra
rec. various London venues, 1956-1968
Full track-listing at the foot of this review
WARNER CLASSICS 9937392 [17 CDs: 21:18:00]

One has to be very cautious in using the word ‘great’ when discussing performing artists for fear that the term be devalued. However, I believe its use is justified when one speaks of the Italian conductor, Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005). The centenary of the maestro’s birth is being celebrated by Warner Classics with several boxed sets reissuing the recordings that he made in London and elsewhere for EMI. This box, as its title confirms, focuses on recordings that he made in London of orchestral repertoire – many of his concerto recordings are contained in a companion box. They were made mainly with the Philharmonia Orchestra, or the New Philharmonia Orchestra as it became for some years when Walter Legge cut it loose. Giulini, along with Klemperer, remained loyal to the players at that time, to the eternal credit of both conductors.
 
Within this box you will find Giulini’s Brahms symphony cycle; the last three Dvořák symphonies; several pieces by Ravel and Debussy as well as other reminders of his twentieth-century repertoire. There’s Beethoven, Schumann, Haydn, Rossini and Verdi. Sadly there’s no Mozart but one can’t have everything. Inevitably, in a substantial box such as this there are some performances that may disappoint individual collectors and you may not agree with every interpretative decision. However, within this set you will find consistently fastidious, carefully considered and scrupulously prepared performances. You will also find a complete absence of flashiness or self-promotion. Such was not Giulini’s way: he was always at the service of the composer and the music.
 
A box of this size is not something that can be rushed, especially when the music-making is of such quality: one needs to savour it gradually and let it settle. Therefore, even after having had the box for several weeks I freely admit that I haven’t listened to all 21 hours of the contents. However, I have listened to the majority of the performances and certainly to sufficient of them to be able to evaluate the contents.
 
Most of the works in this collection could fairly be described as standard core repertoire. However, there’s nothing ‘standard’ or routine about the performances. There’s no attempt to make points for the sake of it nor to search officiously for something “different” to say about the music – that would have been anathema to Giulini. Instead, the listener can sense that the contents of every bar have been carefully considered during scrupulous preparation. So, for example, on Disc 1 we hear a burnished account of the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony. The first movement is darkly dramatic, the second easeful. There’s also what I can only describe as a cultivated reading of Haydn’s ‘Surprise’ Symphony.
 
I’m not sure the Beethoven recordings show Giulini at his best though all are intensely musical. I enjoyed the ‘Pastoral’. The first movement, though perhaps too steadily paced for some tastes, is refined and cultivated. The second movement’s brook flows in an unhurried way yet no detail on either bank escapes his perceptive glance; the music is elegantly shaped. The storm is dramatic while the concluding hymn of thanksgiving is nobly sung and very satisfying. The Eighth, however, doesn’t really recover from an account of the first movement that is too earthbound and misses the sense of gaiety and thrust. The other movements are better but I’ve heard many accounts of this symphony that have better conveyed Beethoven’s bluff good humour and dynamic energy. The ‘Choral’ suffers from a sluggish first movement; the tempi are too steady and the music lacks tension and electricity. Matters improve somewhat in the inner movements. The scherzo is much better; there’s greater animation and incisiveness. In the slow movement Giulini seems to latch on especially to the cantabile instruction in the tempo marking; his performance is glowing and noble. Unfortunately the finale is rather a let-down. The singing and playing is decent enough but the performance never quite takes off. John Phillips reviewed all three of these performances when they were issued as a set some time ago.
 
I’m not sure if Giulini recorded any of Schumann’s symphonies apart from this version of the ‘Rhenish’. If not, that’s a pity because I enjoyed this performance very much, especially the first movement which is ebullient, the Philharmonia horns ringing out splendidly, Incidentally, Giulini uses Mahler’s re-orchestration of the work. While auditioning this box I took a break to review Sir Simon Rattle’s new set of the Schumann symphonies and I was interested to hear Rattle remark that years ago Giulini urged him to investigate Das Paradies und die Peri. I see that some time ago Christopher Howell reviewed very favourably a live performance of this very work conducted by Giulini in 1974. I believe this recording is still available.
 
It’s great to have all four of the Brahms symphonies here. All are very fine though the tempi are often more spacious than we have become accustomed to hearing from many conductors in recent years. That’s certainly true in the First Symphony though I find the performance admirable. The Second is given a distinguished reading. I love the generous phrasing and lyrical approach in the first movement while Giulini is searching in the second movement, once again taking great care over phrasing. Ideally, I’d like more urgency in the finale but there’s still fire there and conductor and orchestra make the conclusion exultant. The first movement of the Third is perhaps a bit deliberate: Giulini doesn’t quite get across the confidence and surge in the music. However, he certainly ‘gets’ the serenade-like quality of the second movement. The finale, too, is on the steady side – one doesn’t feel that there’s enough suppressed energy in the opening pages – however, once the allegro gets into its stride Giulini brings out the strength in the music and he does the glowing, reflective closing pages marvellously. The Fourth is a bit more problematic, though much of it is also very impressive, especially a powerfully projected finale. However, the performance is let down somewhat by the way Giulini plays the third movement. The speed is too steady for my taste and the reading doesn’t convey the essential brio.
 
I was particularly glad to find a disc containing two of my favourite Tchaikovsky works, though they are very different from each other. Giulini gives an agile account of the Little Russian Symphony. His Francesca da Rimini may not be as volatile as, say, Stokowski’s famous New York account but even so the outer sections are dramatic and powerful while the central love music is suitably red-blooded. I enjoyed this disc a lot. Superficially the performance of the Pathétique may seem underpowered by comparison with some more volatile interpretations but Giulini doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, especially in the outer movements. There’s plenty of feeling in the way he plays both of these movements but the approach is patrician and I like it a lot. In particular the relative restraint in the finale is moving.
 
His Dvořák is very rewarding. The performance of the Eighth Symphony is beautifully proportioned and warm: expectations are immediately raised by the way in which the opening theme is sung and those expectations are met. The slow movement is immaculately shaped and Giulini’s account of the finale is wholly convincing. He is just as convincing in the darker music of the Seventh. The first movement is by turns dramatic and winningly lyrical while the Scherzo is a charmer. The finale is strong and thrusting with the London Philharmonic, on their sole appearance in this set, responding splendidly to Giulini. The New World is very well done and on the same disc there’s a refreshing performance of the Carnival Overture.
 
Giulini was a noted exponent of the Ravel and Debussy scores that are included here. In passing, I wonder why it should be that so many Italian conductors have excelled in La Mer: one thinks of Cantelli and Toscanini as well as Giulini. Giulini’s approach is very different to theirs. His fastidious attention to colour and balance serves the music very well but there’s also excellent spirit to his reading of these pieces. I also enjoyed his supple account of the Nocturnes very much. He shapes the subtleties of the two outer movements with great refinement while there’s plenty of colour and dash in Fêtes. I see that Gwyn Parry-Jones was also impressed by Giulini in this repertoire (review).
 
The Ravel pieces are all enticing. I love Ma Mère l’Oye and I found Giulini’s performance of it beguiling and satisfying, nowhere more so than in the concluding Jardin Féerique, which he builds beautifully. I so wish he’d had a chorus for the Daphnis et Chloé suite; it’s such a vital ingredient and the music isn’t the same in its purely orchestral guise. Nonetheless, this is excellent.
 
There’s a generous helping of Rossini overtures. Highlights of a hugely enjoyable collection include Guillaume Tell in which the introduction is really well done – the Philharmonia’s cello section is on superb form at the start – while the main allegro has terrific dash. There’s also a sparkling account of La Cenerentola. La gazza ladra is very entertaining while Il Barbiere di Siviglia is vivacious.
 
The penultimate disc offers a selection of music – the Introduction and four dances – from El sombrero de tres picos. Perhaps the Introduction is a little on the relaxed side but overall Falla’s colourful music is very well done. The suite from L’Oiseau de feu is very fine. The Introduction is full of tension while ‘Rondes des princesses’ is expertly sculpted – yet another reminder of Giulini’s refined musical sensibilities. By contrast Kashtchei’s Dance is explosive, the percussion thwacks are like whip-cracks. There’s more refinement in the ‘Berceuse’ – the bassoon solo is beguiling – while the ‘Finale’ is imposing. There are also a couple of reminders of how well Giulini could conduct the music of Britten - an even more potent reminder is the 1969 live performance of War Requiem, which he co-conducted with Britten (BBC Legends BBCL 4046-2). In this present collection the Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes are very well done. Moonlight is sophisticated and atmospheric while Storm is suitably elemental. I remember this and the performance of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra from LP days, not least the wonderful hollow sound of the bass drum in Young Person’s Guide. What I didn’t know until now – the information is contained in Raymond Holden’s booklet note – is that the recording of Young Person’s Guide won a Grammy Award in 1965 for Best Engineered Classical Album. Parts of Giulini’s reading are a little on the steady side – I always think of portly Aldermen when I hear the trombone/tuba variation and that impression is certainly reinforced here – but it’s a very good performance nonetheless, culminating in an exciting account of the fugue.
 
The last disc in the box is given over to a documentary feature about Giulini made by Jon Tolansky for the American radio station WFMT to mark the maestro’s ninetieth birthday. It’s been issued before on disc at least once, when it was coupled with some of the conductor’s Brahms recordings (review). It includes extracts from a number of recordings and also features comments from Giulini himself, recorded in Milan in December 2003. He was an old man by then and age together with his accented English mean that one has to concentrate to hear what he has to say but it’s well worth the effort. There are comments from a number of people who worked with the maestro during his career, including Lord Harewood and some who played for him in the Philharmonia and in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. What comes across is the modesty, dedication, musicality and sheer humanity of the man. It’s a most interesting feature. One story that impressed me was related by Adolph ‘Bud’ Herseth (1921-2013), the renowned principal trumpeter of the Chicago Symphony from 1948 to 2001. Herseth recalls Giulini’s debut with the orchestra in 1955 at the invitation of Fritz Reiner who was about to take a two-week holiday. Before leaving Reiner told his players that in his absence they would be led by Giulini, who he described to them as ‘a very special person’. Herseth notes that this was the only time that Reiner ever introduced a guest conductor in this way.
 
I mentioned a moment ago that the recording of Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra won a Grammy Award for engineering. In fact all the recordings in this box are very good and few allowances have to be made for them on age grounds. Mind you, the engineers involved included Robert Gooch, Douglas Larter and Christopher Parker so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised at the quality of the sound. Giulini was also accorded the services of some of EMI’s top producers, including Robert Kinloch Anderson, Christopher Bishop and a certain Walter Legge. All of the recordings were made either in EMI’s No 1 Studio at Abbey Road or in the much-missed Kingsway Hall. Giulini would be the first to insist on credit being given to the musicians who gave these performances under his direction. The orchestral playing is consistently excellent and above all this set reminds us what a fantastic orchestra the Philharmonia was in these years, especially when inspired by a conductor to whom they were clearly devoted.
 
In addition to this box Warner has also released as part of its centenary tribute a box of concerto recordings conducted by Giulini. You can read Stephen Greenbank’s review here. They’ve also reissued EMI’s four-disc box of the maestro’s recordings made in Chicago while he was principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony (4317522). That box is well worth acquiring, not least for the incandescent extracts from Berlioz’s Roméo et Juilette.
 
This set of discs contains wonderful performances. One might quibble with a detail here or there but that’s almost an impertinence in the face of such dedicated musicianship. I said at the start that I’m wary of using the word ‘great’ but no one listening to these recordings could fail to realise that they are the work of one of the truly great conductors of the twentieth century.
 
John Quinn

Masterwork Index    
Beethoven symphony 6 Beethoven symphony 8 Beethoven symphony 9
Brahms symphony 1 Brahms symphony 2 Brahms symphony 3
Brahms symphony 4 Dvorak symphony 7 Dvorak symphony 8
Dvorak symphony 9 Haydn symphony 94 Schumann symphony 3
Stravinsky L’Oiseau de feu Tchaikovsky symphony 6  

Disc and performance details
Philharmonia Orchestra
*New Philharmonia Orchestra
**London Philharmonic Orchestra
***London Symphony Orchestra 

CD1 [75:05]
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Symphony No.94 ‘Surprise’ [20:23]
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805) Symphony in C minor, Op. 41 [15:58]
Overture in D, Op. 43 [6:23] 
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Symphony No.8 D759 ‘Unfinished’ [22:45]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Egmont Overture, Op 84* [9:11]
 
CD2 [72.37]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Symphony No 6 in F major, Op. 68, ‘Pastoral’* [44:53]
Symphony No 8 in F major, Op. 93*** [27:32]
 
CD3 [72.32]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op. 125*** [72:32]
Sheila Armstrong (soprano); Anna Reynolds (contralto); Robert Tear (tenor); John Shirley-Quirk (baritone)/London Symphony Chorus
 
CD4 [77.33]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1808) Overtures
La scale di sieta [6:17]
Il signor Bruschino [4:450]
Tancredi [6:28]
L’italiana in Algeri [8:04]
Il Barbiere di Siviglia [7:29]
La Cenerentola [8:34]
La gazza ladra [10:31]
Semiramide [12:51
Guillaume Tell [12:23]
 
CD5 [69.48]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op 97 ‘Rhenish’ (Re-orchestrated by Gustav Mahler) [32:19]
Manfred, Op 115 – Overture [11:53] 
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Preludes & Overtures
La Traviata – Prelude to Act 1 [4:20]
Prelude to Act III [3:59]
I vespri siciliani – Overture [9:07]
La forza del destino – Overture [7:56]
 
CD6 [70.35]
César FRANCK (1822-1890) Symphony in D minor [39:41]
Psyché et Éros [9:08]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875) Jeux d’enfants [10:49] 
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1891) Night on Bare Mountain [10:39]
 
CD7 [60.36]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op. 68 [47:13]
Tragic Overture, Op. 81 [13:20]

CD8 [76.52]
Johannes BRAHMS Symphony No 2 in D major, Op. 73 [41:44]
Symphony No 3 in F major, Op. 90 [35:05]
CD9 [62.17]
Johannes BRAHMS Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op. 98* [43:31]
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op 56a [18:46]
 
CD10 [56.04]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Symphony No.2 in C minor, Op 17 ‘Little Russian’ [31:03 ]
Francesca da Rimini, Op 32 [24:51]
 
CD11 [67.12]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No.6 in B minor, ‘Pathétique’ [47:11]
Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture after Shakespeare [19:54]

CD12 [79.01]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904) Symphony No 7 in D minor, Op 70** [40:45]
Symphony No 8 in G major, Op 88 [38:16]
 
CD13 [64.51]
Antonín DVOŘÁK Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op 95 ‘From the New World’ [40:57] Carnival Overture, Op 92 [9:34]
Scherzo capriccioso, Op 66 [14:01]

CD14 [76.57]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) La Mer [25:23]
Nocturnes [26:31] 
Philharmonia Chorus (Ladies’ Voices)
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Alborada del gracioso (Miroirs) [7:46]
Daphnis et Chloé – Suite No.2 [16:53
 
CD15 [66.49]
Maurice RAVEL Ma Mère l’Oye [17:16]
Pavane pour une infante Défunte [6:55]
Rapsodie espagnole [16:16]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946) El amor brujo [26:22]
Victoria de los Angeles (soprano)
 
CD16 [76.23]
Manuel de FALLA El sombrero de tres picos [18:32]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) L’Oiseau de feu – Suite [21:52]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, Op 33a [17:09]
The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Op 43 [18:42]
 
CD17 [76.38]
Carlo Maria Giulini: A Profile
Documentary by Jon Tolansky


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