Thursday, January 05, 2006

Giulini: The Chicago Recordings

Carlo Maria Giulini was never one of the stratospheric conductors. However, as an interpreter, he was one of them. For a few years in the 1970s, he was the Principal Guest Conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (a position now held by Pierre Boulez). EMI was lucky enough to record some of their collaborations. Last year, before Giulini died, they released an affordable box set of the records. This includes a Mahler 1, Beethoven 7, and Bruckner 9. There is some other stuff, but I am not really that interested in it.

The Mahler 1 has stiff competition from, primarily, Rafael Kubelik's 1970 DG recording. Giulini is close, but the interpretative styles are radically different. While Kubelik has a youthful joie de vivre, Giulini treats Mahler with a distance and like the symphonic titan he was at the end of his life. However, both recordings are essential. Giulini creates a tension at the beginning and holds it to the end. Fritz Reiner, in his recording of the 4th, makes it clear that he didn't know Mahler - like Klemperer and Bruno Walter did. Thus, the Chicago band was at a distinct disadvantage. Nevertheless, Giulini wrenches a brilliant performance out of them.

The Beethoven 7 is pretty idiosyncratic. Giulini adopts tempi similar to Wilhelm Furtwängler's 1950 recording (though not quite as broad). I think he really takes Richard Wagner's statement of the 7th being the "apotheosis of the dance" to heart. The symphony is played as a giant dance, and the Allegretto is as gorgeous as anything Von Karajan put out.

The Bruckner 9, though, is the reason for buying this set. This period was when Giulini was beginning to add more Bruckner to his repertoire. However, he plays this with an intense spirituality and reverence. This is a far cry from the very, very broad performances of his later career. This is nearly perfect Bruckner. It has a glow to it. Now, Jochum and others turned in equally important Bruckner 9ths, but Giulini has something to it. One senses that he gets Bruckner as Bruckner would want him to.

Buy this set. Apologies, too, for my brief absence. I have been transitioning my dwellings.