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CD Review

Giulini In Chicago II

  • Benjamin Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn & Strings, Op. 31 *
  • Antonín Dvořák:
  • Symphony #8 in G Major, Op. 88 (1889)
  • Symphony #9 in E minor "From the New World", Op. 95 (1893)
  • Gustav Mahler: Symphony #9 in D Major (1908-09)
  • Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (1874)
  • Serge Prokofieff: Symphony #1 in D Major "Classical", Op. 25 (1916)
  • Franz Schubert:
  • Symphony #4 in C minor "Tragic", D.417 (1816)
  • Symphony #8 in B minor "Unfinished", D.759 (1822)
  • Symphony #9 in C Major "The Great", D.944 (1826)
* Dale Clevenger, horn
* Robert Tear, tenor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini
Deutsche Grammophon 4779628 5CDs
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This is the complimentary set to "Giulini in America I" (DG 4778840), and more indirectly, to "Giulini: The Chicago Recordings" (EMI Classics 585974). I reviewed the former set in late 2014, and own the latter (twice reviewed in the pages of Classical Net). Of the two sets from Deutsche Grammophon, I slightly favor the Los Angeles box, if only because those performances are so full of the great conductor's personality. Not that these aren't; this set trumps the EMI one in terms of musical importance, but Chicago is simply a harder ensemble on which to impose a personal vision.

That's not to say Giulini couldn't. The Dvořák performances are both highly serious, tremendously successful recordings. They will not please listeners who view these symphonies as rustic Czech gems; Giulini has little interest in the traditional view. While not overly slow or heavy, both works unfold gradually. There is little playfulness, not much heart. Three Schubert symphonies are also here. The 4th is an intense and very satisfying reading, as is this very beautiful 8th. The "Great" is perhaps the least rewarding work in the set; while the conductor lavishes enormous care on the score, it's simply not a work you can dawdle in.

The rest of the set has similar strengths, with the same occasional weaknesses. The Prokofieff is certainly better than James Levine and Seiji Ozawa, also on Deutsche Grammophon, while not surpassing the label's readings with Abbado and Karajan. The Mussorgsky is a classic, but again is surpassed by Reiner (RCA) and Kubelik (Mercury, and monaural) also in Chicago. I also have a soft spot for the conductor's late – and little-known – Berlin Philharmonic outing on Sony. That said, nobody who owns this fantastically played version has much reason to complain. The Britten is unexpected (though not entirely so) and features two terrific soloists. It is the same recording featured in "The Chicago Principal", another terrific and intelligent set.

Lastly, we come to Giulini's well-regarded Mahler 9th. Like all of Giulini's Mahler, I have reservations about it, but you just can't question the commitment and dedication here. Every one of these discs is filled to the brim, save for the first half of the Mahler 9th, and sounds terrific. Along with Giulini's Los Angeles recordings, the conductors' American years on DG constitute a major part of his legacy, and we should be grateful to have the resulting recordings all in one place at such reasonable prices.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman