Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 1.
Symphony No. 94,
Carlo Maria Giulini, cond; Berlin PO
TESTAMENT 1462 (2 CDs: 85:28) Live: Berlin 2–3/1976
Testament continues mining Berlin Philharmonic concerts, in state-of-the-art transfers from original German Radio sources. Giulini enjoyed a special rapport with the orchestra, which responded with playing of rare beauty and concentration—freely expressive strings, rich,
fruity woodwinds, and massive brass sonorities.
Mahler’s First is played for weight and refinement. The introduction to the first movement is slow and concentrated, long on fullness of tone and expression (these are unusually well-fed birds!), rather shorter on impressionism and naturalistic evocation. The main part of the movement is smooth, even, and unhurried—impressive, certainly, but youthful exuberance is in short supply; this is a far cry from, say, Kubelík’s way with the music. The Scherzo is powerful and brilliant, the Trio lovingly detailed but natural and unmannered (in contrast to Bernstein, Mitropoulos, and others). In the slow movement, Giulini is more notable for symphonic integrity than colorful characterization. The finale brings the biggest contrast with his EMI studio recording in Chicago five years earlier, very slow and massive at 23:00 to Chicago’s 20:47. The opening F-Minor storms are very deliberate indeed, lacking the requisite wild quality; but amends are made with the lyrical D?-Major theme (and its later fragmentary reprise in F), lovingly shaped with gorgeous velvet execution. The end has a hugely imposing saturated splendor; the audience certainly liked it, if its immediately following eruption is anything to go by. I would prefer the EMI recording for the sharper edges of the Chicago orchestra and its livelier finale, but this is undoubtedly impressive in its own right. I’m glad to have both.
As for the Haydn, the booklet quotes a contemporary critic who found “the outer movements … brisk without any suggestion of rushing.” Well, there is indeed no suggestion of rushing, but these stately tempos were far from “brisk” even in 1976, in a well-upholstered reading with what sounds like a very large string section. Although Giulini does, to an extent, achieve a compensating vitality and tautness, overall I find too much concern for beauty of sound and cushioned articulation for the music’s own good. In the Andante, the “surprise” chord is
all right, but did you ever hear it given quite such a loving, lingering caress? Another live version with the Bavarian Radio Symphony in 1979 (Profil) is similar in conception, though not quite so beautifully played; an early studio recording with the Philharmonia (EMI, 1956) is much lighter on its feet. And if you hanker for the “big band” treatment in Berlin, Karajan’s early digital set of the London symphonies (DG) is a lot more persuasive in its assertive élan.
Short playing time, but the two discs sell at a reduced price.
FANFARE: Boyd Pomeroy
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 1 in D major "Titan" by Gustav Mahler
Carlo Maria Giulini
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
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