Notes and Editorial Reviews
For a conductor who had such a long and extensive career, Giulini made relatively few concerto recordings, and not all of them turned out well. This of course has as much to do with the soloists as it does the conductor, although Giulini worked with some of the best. This nine disc set begins with a ghastly recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with the Philharmonia Orchestra, slow and slack even by contemporary standards (1955). The whole work lasts nearly an hour. It’s deadly, and we also get as a “bonus” an experimental stereo recording of the worst of the four, Autumn, which drags even more than the mono version that belongs with the rest.
Once we’re over that inauspicious beginning, matters improve dramatically with Janos Starker playing cello concertos by Haydn (No. 2), Boccherini (in B flat), Schumann, and Saint-Saëns. This latter is mis-tracked, with the Allegretto con moto second movement mis-labelled and misspelled (“Allgretto”), but the performance itself is a fine one. The two Brahms concertos featuring Claudio Arrau are, of course, well known and highly respected, while the remake of the First with Alexis Weissenberg from 1972, with the London Symphony rather than the Philharmonia, shows that Giulini was willing and able to adapt–at least somewhat–to Weissenberg’s more aggressive approach and flintier sonority.
Weissenberg sticks around for Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 9 and 23 with the Vienna Symphony, performances that are, shall we say, an acquired taste (I’ve always liked Weissenberg, personally). Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto with Milstein is wonderful and makes us wish that the two had worked together more frequently, but the excellent Brahms and Beethoven Violin Concertos with Perlman make ample amends. Surprisingly, Giulini’s collaboration with cellist Mstislav Rostropovich is a dud; a good Saint-Saëns First Concerto is overshadowed by the great soloist’s dreariest recording of the Dvorák, with Giulini himself no paragon of energy and enthusiasm either. I guess everyone has a bad day now and then.
Serious collectors will already own many of these recordings, but it’s good to see them all collected in a single set. Interestingly, none of these EMI (now Warner) series dedicated to conductors includes all of the vocal or dramatic works. The Klemperer edition left out the three major opera recordings (Fidelio, The Magic Flute, and Dutchman), while here we have no Verdi or Mozart Requiems, and no operas, which by rights could have been included with “Giulini in London.” Perhaps they will come out separately, or maybe reissuing sets with multiple soloists involves an additional cost that the label does not want to incur. Either way, I am curious to see what, if anything, happens next.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com