By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
This article was first
published today in the above papers.
Less than a month before what would have been his 97th
birthday, conductor Carlo Maria Giulini is being honored by EMI Classics with a
boxed set of four compact discs entitled “The Chicago Recordings.” Last year,
DeutscheGrammaphon released a multi-disc set of Giulini’s recordings made when
he was music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (LINK).
This EMI set offers clues as to what made Giulini’s Los
Angeles tenure so memorable and — even though most of recordings have been
available previously — at less than $20 it’s one of the great bargains in
recent classical music recording history.
Although Giulini’s reputation in Europe was growing both in
the opera house and on the symphony stage, he made his first appearance in the
United States at the age of 41 with the Chicago Symphony in 1955 at the
invitation of the CSO’s “feared but revered” music director Fritz Reiner (that
description comes from a long essay written in 2004 by John Tolansky included in
the booklet accompanying this new boxed set, a bonus for buyers).
Guilini maintained his CSO relationship until he was lured
west in 1978 by Ernest Fleischmann, the L.A. Philharmonic’s executive director
(later executive vice president and managing director). It was one of
Fleischmann’s great coups to convince Giulini to come to Los Angeles, a move
that ultimately proved to be satisfying for Giulini and a major step forward
for the Phil.
However, Giulini never lost his love affair for the
Chicagoans. “It was a deep love and friendship,” explained Giulini in 1980, “something
that belongs to my body, my soul and my blood.” Moreover, it was definitely a
two-way street, as Tolansky reports. “In five minutes,” said Victor Aitay,
former CSO concertmaster, “he had an orchestra that loved him … From then
onwards, it was a long-time love affair with him.” Those were sentiments later
echoed by L.A. Phil members, as well.
The set includes symphonies by Beethoven (No. 7), Bruckner
(No. 9), Brahms (No. 4) and Mahler (No. 1), along with Stravinsky’s 1919 Firebird suite and his 1947 Petrushka suite, and Berlioz’s Romeo et Juliette dramatic symphony. The
discs are crammed full, so the Berlioz is on both the first and second disc
while the first movement of Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 is on disc 3 and the other
three movements are on disc 4.
Altogether, there’s more than five hours of music in the
set, all of which was recorded in Chicago’s Medinah Temple (a better recording
venue than its home, Orchestra Hall). The recordings date from 1969-1976, a
period during part of which Guilini held the title as principal guest conductor
(Sir Georg Solti was music director at the time).
Two of the more intriguing recordings are Mahler’s Symphony
No. 1 and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 because Giulini waited until later in his
career before conducting the music of either composer (Guilini was notorious
for his very limited repertory; he conducted only those composers with whom he
could feel an intense emotional connection).
His tempos in nearly everything are luxuriant; it is
startling for those who never heard Giulini to compare his tempo of the final
movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 with that of the L.A. Phil’s current
music director, Gustavo Dudamel.
Moreover, even though these discs use recordings from a
different time than the current digital era, the famed Chicago brass sound, the
overall sheen of the orchestra and Guilini’s mystical presence are present
throughout each of the works. For those who had the pleasure of hearing and
seeing Giulini conduct or for those who wonder what why he was so revered, this
is a fine sampling.
(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.