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CD Review

Johannes Brahms

EMI 62883
  • Tragic Overture *
  • Haydn Variations
  • Symphony #4
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini
* Philharmonia Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini
EMI Great Recordings of the Century 62883
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This is among the last of the Great Recordings of the Century series issued by EMI. Last month I reviewed another GROC release that included music by Debussy and Ravel conducted by Giulini and was not impressed. I am happy to report that this release is impressive.

Somewhere I read that in Giulini's first concert he conducted the Brahms 4th. That was shortly after the Second World War. This recording was made in 1970 and another, with the VPO, in 1990. We have; then, his thoughts recorded over 40 years. The 20 separating the two mentioned reflect a significant difference. This is mainly in the tempo. As was his want later, the performance is significantly slower in 1990. The Tragic Overture in 1962 clocked in at 13:16 to 15:29 in 1990. I don't think this is simply a matter of age. Rather, like some other conductors, Stokowski being a notable exception, as he grew older Giulini tended to pause and look at the landscape as he strolled through. This is not necessarily good or bad but, unfortunately the later recordings of the Brahms simply lack tension and that is crucial to any performance of ANY kind of music.

These earlier recordings find Giulini in excellent form. The Chicago Symphony, with Solti at the helm, was one of the finest in the USa and the world. Giulini tames the brass and makes sure the woodwinds are clear. I wish the timpani had been brought out more but that is a minor point. All of the works have the necessary tension and move me along. The "Tragic" Overture is just that, whereas in 1990 it isn't. The Haydn variations add to the value of this fine disc.

In short, this is a GROC and demonstrates that Giulini was one of the great conductors of the last century. There is a second disc, which is an interview/appreciation of Giulini. It is an interesting lagniappe.

Other Brahms' 4th Symphony recordings I'd recommend are: Stokowski's stereo recording with the New Philharmonia (available at this time) Belholavek with the Czech Philharmonic on Supraphon, Sanderling on RCA and, most of all, Bruno Walter's stereo recording on SONY.

Post Script: The GROC series has been a wealth of issues that are among the best recordings of the last century. There have been a few that I have wondered about but only one I reviewed that was not better than its previous incarnation. I am perplexed, however, at the absence of any Stokowski recordings. In particular his Shostakovich 11th was one of the best performances and recordings made by the Maestro. It was not only a dramatic performance that rivets your attention; it was also considered an audiophile LP. Why it was not issued as one of the GROC series is a mystery.

Copyright © 2005, Robert Stumpf II

Trumpet