Monday, January 01, 2007

Giulini's Salzburg Das Lied

Carlo Maria Giulini died a year and a half ago, on 15 June 2005; this blog did not exist on that date, and I cannot recall if the previous incarnation (From the New World) made comment upon that. Autres temps, I suppose.

In Borders, I discovered (as I do a good portion of the music I love) an Orfeo disc of Giulini leading the Wiener Philharmoniker in Mozart's Symphony no. 40 and Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with Araiza and Fassbaender. This was recorded by ORF on 2 August 1987 during the Salzburger Festspiele. For whatever reason, Giulini never had a close association with the Salzburg event, unlike conductors like Von Karajan, but - then again - he seemed particularly happy in Chicago and Los Angeles.

He recorded Mahler's draining Das Lied von der Erde with Deutsche Grammophon (same soloists, but with the Berliner Philharmoniker) in 1984, so there is some standard for comparison. I, however, have not heard the studio set. If it's anything like Von Karajan's roughly contemporary Beethoven set, all spot-miking and weird balances, the ORF recording is better. In any event, the acoustic of Salzburg's Großes Festspielhaus is better than the almost intolerably boomy one of the (Neue) Philharmonie.

Giulini, like his equally elusive colleague, Carlos Kleiber, never really got the credit he deserved. The Mozart and Mahler combination, strange as it may seem, shows him at his best. He is elegant, precise, and poetic. Under his expert hand, the Wiener Philharmoniker, apt to phone it in for something as "quotidian" as Mozart's 40th, shines and sparkles with the swank and swagger only it has. Mahler, the once emperor of the podium in Vienna, is often another story. By 1987, I think we are essentially past the Bernstein stories of Viennese reticence to Mahler (if it ever really existed). They do very well, following Giulini's long line and sense of architecture. His Mahler is poetic, but it is never overwrought. He follows the instructions without losing the emotions.

Francisco Araiza, though, was the standout here. He has, to my ears, a bel canto tenor that received its training in the Germanic repertoire. Naturally, this drives fans of the bel canto repertoire through the wall. They demand every tenor to be a Pavarotti, it seems, or someone similar to that sort of (frankly overwrought and sickly sweet) style. Araiza, it seems, is well-suited for the heavier German repertoire. He has a powerful voice, though not an outright Heldentenor, a smooth tone, and excellent German. Compared to Domingo's Das Lied under Salonen (an interesting recording for the latter's echt-modern interpretation), Araiza is the best of both worlds. For personal reasons, though, I still think James King's reading under either Bernstein or Haitink is the best, and most idiomatic. In fact, after a quick listen, I think King was in better (read: brighter) voice in 1966 with Bernstein. Still, either one will do.

Fassbaender was, as usual, wonderful. Being deeply into (awkward phrase, but I don't like saying "devoted to") Wagner, one doesn't really get the opportunity to critique mezzo-sopranos that often. However, for a challenging role, Fassbaender acquits herself nicely. In fact, given the enormity of "Der Abschied," I am inclined to say that a mezzo who does well there is just a good mezzo, all things considered.

It's expensive (Orfeo isn't high volume here and it's an import), but it's worth it. An excellent Mozart no. 40 and, accounting for a one-off live performance, a brilliant Das Lied, makes the expense seem justifiable. If not entirely palatable.