This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
Giulini's desire is to give this music time to breathe and be heard, and he is absolutely the master of how best to bring that about.
In an age when any recording of Beethoven's Fifth is little more than a blip on an accountant's screen, it is salutary to be reminded that the symphony was once a germ in the creative mind. In the beginning there was the vision, and the work itself. After that came interpretation, and competition between interpretations, Edison and Berliner, and, finally, Beethoven's Fifth as 'product'. Giulini's recording of the Fifth, which ends with a piccolo singing high in the stratosphere as C major sounds majestically beneath, is not a performance in the histrionic (or historic) sense of the word.
Rather, it is a meditation on the work's informing vision, what Goethe called "the Fall upwards", the transition from dark to light, the seeds of spiritual regeneration planted in the very ground of despair.
And that is not an elaborately periphrastic way of saying that the performance is a bit dull, that the old boy is not quite what he was. Giulini's desire is to give the music time to breathe and be heard. And he is absolutely the master of how best to bring that about. You hear this in the time he allots to the opening fermatas (and in the fineness of their sound, rich and unforced); you hear it in the slight 'lift' he imparts to the rhythm, the time they are given to dance; and you hear it in the steady, unflustered pulse of the whole.
The final two movements are treated as a seamless robe. Logically — since there is no repeat of the Scherzo's first half — Giulini omits the finale's exposition repeat. The music is thus allowed to move forward with a simple momentum of its own. Climaxes are finely judged, and rarely has the Scherzo's unexpected return within the finale seemed so fine an invention as it does here. ("An invention as inimitable as the beginning of Hamlet", as Basil Lam once described it.) There is lovely detailing of the inner parts, too. As ever with Giulini, the violas are well nursed, their launch of the finale's G major subject as eloquent as you will ever hear it. The symphony's slow movement, incidentally, is played as though it is first cousin to Schubert's Unfinished Symphony.
The coupling is shrewdly chosen since Beethoven wrote the Fourth Symphony, in part, to solve a crisis in the creation of the Fifth — the crisis of how best to effect that "Fall upwards" from C minor Scherzo to C major finale. (Interestingly, the Fifth precedes the Fourth on the disc, though if you wish to follow the actual compositional chronology you would need to bail out of the Fifth Symphony before the transition on the drum, play the Fourth Symphony and only then return to the Fifth. A somewhat eccentric procedure.)
Giulini has never previously recorded the Fourth Symphony, an odd omission since it is a symphony I would have thought him born to conduct. Coming to it thus late has its risks and I am not sure that Giulini has the work's measure at every point. The slow introduction, the slow movement, and the still points of the Allegro vivace's turning world are wonderfully well reimagined and realized. The word vivace, though, implies a slightly more spirited gait than Giulini allows. But if parts of the first movement seem a touch lumpy, the finale is a miracle of unforced motion, the La Scala playing relaxed, the mood gamesome as it invariably is when the conductor takes note of Beethoven's written instruction Allegro ma non troppo. (Klemperer was always very persuasive in this movement, Gardiner on his recent Archiv recording is ruinously quick.)
Sony's Milan recordings place the orchestra a shade distantly, giving a slightly veiled quality to the string tone, but since this is consonant with the sound Giulini draws from the orchestra it is hardly a matter of great concern. Along with the Pastoral Symphony (5/94) this must be the pick of the cycle to date.
-- Gramophone [11/1995]
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 5 in C minor, Op. 67 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Carlo Maria Giulini
La Scala Philharmonic
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