Hard to believe, but Carlo Maria Giulini reached his 90th birthday in 2004. When he first conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1955, he was a mature man of 41, but still almost a baby, as far as conductors go. From his first appearance, he was respected and admired by the musicians, and hailed by the critics and audiences, and he eventually served as the orchestra's Principal Guest Conductor between 1969 and 1972. (Giulini maintained that position in everything but name until 1978, when he became Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.)
These recordings were made between 1969 and 1971, with the exception of the Bruckner, which dates from 1976. Some of them have appeared on CD before, but some have not, and fans of the conductor and of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will rejoice at this collection. The Bruckner Ninth is among the finest ever recorded. The CSO's brass players were born to play Bruckner, and Giulini combines toughness with an Italianate singing quality to make the third movement particularly memorable and elegiac. The Brahms is similarly imposing; this is what Toscanini's conducting would have sounded like if he had had a warmer personality. Mahler's First is another showpiece for Chicago's brass section. Giulini was not a natural Mahler conductor, but he approached this symphony relatively free from preconceived notions, and the result is a warm, emotionally generous reading with no trace of hysteria. Parts of the Berlioz are absolutely wonderful too, and Giulini secures brilliant playing from the orchestra in The Firebird. Pétrouchka and Beethoven's Seventh receive fine performances, but they are not quite as memorable as the other items in this set.
These recordings were made in Chicago's Medinah Temple, and the engineering – particularly in the Bruckner – is wonderful. Less wonderful is the fact that both the Berlioz and the Brahms are split across two CDs. This was done, I assume, to prevent this collection from running to five CDs. I appreciate the concern for the collector's wallet, but breaking Roméo and Juliet in half and making the listener change discs after the first movement of Brahms' Fourth Symphony are not necessarily welcome reminders of the LP era! The Mahler, Beethoven, and Stravinsky appear to have received new digital remasterings for this compilation; the rest date from 1994-2003. There is a good essay on Giulini's Chicago years by John Tolansky in the booklet. Very warmly recommended!
Copyright © 2004, Raymond Tuttle