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CD Review

Giulini Conducts

Philharmonia Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini
BBC Legends BBCL4159-2 ADD 2CDs 134m
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Pairing Bruckner's Eighth with Dvořák's Eighth might seem a very uneven choice, but on careful listening, one discovers many similarities such as the abrupt change of dynamics, masterly use of woodwind and percussion together with a most sincere outpouring of both composer's hearts and souls.

But it is Giulini's readings that fascinate the most, particularly the Bruckner masterpiece, which for absolute purity of sound and attention to detail can seldom be surpassed. Giulini had two stints with the Philharmonia, the first way back in the early sixties when he was carving out his reputation as a fine conductor. During this period, he would choose many virtuoso pieces, but by the eighties his interpretative style changed and he became a more thoughtful and searching conductor. The Bruckner is from this latter period when Giulini was lured back to the Philharmonia after a stormy period for the orchestra. It was taped at the Royal Festival Hall on the 18th of September 1983 in immaculate sound and balance.

Giulini's reading is a tightrope of a version between great dramatic tensions and searing outburst of majestic beauty. Climaxes are perfectly judged and the final coda tends to swallow up all the previous energy, so strong is its cataclysmic intensity. The Dvořák G Major was recorded at the Proms on the 8th of August 1963, which is almost 20 years earlier than the Bruckner and the difference in Giulini's conducting is very evident. The dance like tunes that permeate this symphony are very lending to Giulini's virtuoso approach to most of the works he conducted and his exuberance serves him in good stead in delivering an interpretation that is fresh, lyrical and when required, also eloquently dramatic, particularly in the outer movements. This work is considered to be Dvořák's most uneven symphony, but in Giulini's hands it reveals itself as a very tight and cogent piece full of memorable tunes that one keeps humming long after the excitement has died down.

The recording, as in the Bruckner, is of a very high quality and considering that this is also a live performance, I have only plaudits for the engineers responsible. This 2 disc album is concluded with Rossini's Semiramide Overture, a real orchestral showpiece taped at the Royal Festival Hall two months after the Dvořák Concert, In spite of its sparkling and buoyant music, this Overture makes pretty lightweight stuff after two such outstanding symphonies but Giulini's light and breezy reading makes it all the more welcome, an excellent dessert after a thought-provoking meal. My only qualm on this album is the rather boxy sound of this overture, but this is a minor misgiving when compared to the joys on offer. If only for the Bruckner, do not hesitate to add to your collection.

Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech