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Giulini in Boston
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 94 in G, Hob.I:94 ‘Surprise’ [25:05]
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No 2 in C minor, Op 17, ‘Little Russian’ [33:58]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Overture: L’Italiana in Algeri [8:56]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op 95, ‘From the New World’ [44:53]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini
rec. live 2 & 9 March 1962, Symphony Hall, Boston. ADD,
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC559 [59:05 + 53:50]

During his long international career, Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005) became strongly associated, at different times, with two American orchestras. As the short Pristine note tells us, he guest conducted the Chicago Symphony from 1955 until 1978 and was especially close to them as Principal Guest Conductor between 1969 and 1972; the role was created for him. His other major relationship was with the Los Angeles Philharmonic of which he was Principal Conductor and Music Director between 1978 and 1984. Thanks to EMI and DG we have quite a number of recordings of him with both of those orchestras. He appeared less frequently in Boston; in fact, it appears he did just 20 concerts with them in three guest conducting spells: in March 1962; in October/November 1969; and in March/April 1974. The present recordings come from two of the concerts he gave in his first appearances with the orchestra in 1962. The Haydn and Tchaikovsky works are taken from a concert on 2 March while the Rossini and Dvořák pieces were played seven days later. According to the weekly newsletter from Pristine which first announced this release, the source is “excellent stereo tapes of four works from the 1962 concerts, taken from excellent quality broadcasts and held since then in the extensive collection of a well-known British film director.” Though it seems, then, that the sources were stereo tapes the term “Ambient Stereo” is inscribed on the discs that I received for review.

All the works included here were recorded commercially by Giulini at least once. He did the Haydn symphony for EMI as far back as October 1956. That performance with the Philharmonia was included in a substantial box, ‘Carlo Maria Giulini: The London Years’ which Warner Classics issued back in 2014 (review). The present Boston performance is very good. It’s ‘big-band’ Haydn, of course, but I’m certainly not going to object to that, especially when a master conductor is at the helm of a first-class orchestra. After the short introduction to the first movement, the Vivace assai bounds along, full of spirit and energy. Giulini leads an elegant account of the slow movement, complete with its famous ‘surprise’. He adopts a fairly sturdy pace for the Minuet but, personally, I think his way with the music is highly persuasive. That’s true of the finale, too, which receives a dapper, smiling performance. I enjoyed this Haydn symphony very much.

And I enjoyed the ‘Little Russian’ just as much. A Philharmonia recording, set down in September 1956, is included in the aforementioned Warner box and the fact that this was made under studio conditions means that the performance is just that bit more polished and the recorded sound even better balanced than on this Boston performance where the brass can dominate a bit at times. That, I hasten to add, will be down to the balance of the radio recording, I’m sure; the playing that the Bostonians offer Giulini is very good indeed. The conductor really gets hold of the first movement, where there’s admirable energy in the Allegro vivo section. I do like his affectionate presentation of the sprightly little march that forms the basis of the second movement. And when I use the word “presentation” what I really mean is that Giulini just allows the music to speak for itself; he doesn’t over-interpret. There’s vitality in the third movement and Giulini ensures that the colourful, extrovert finale is exciting, though he’s nicely relaxed for the second subject (3:09). I’ve always liked this symphony, which I think is a real charmer, and Giulini does it extremely well.

The second disc opens with the Rossini overture. A good selection of these pieces, including L’Italiana in Algeri, was included in the Warner box: this was one of a batch of overtures that Giulini set down with the Philharmonia in June 1959. Here, with the BSO, he shows himself to be ideally suited to this music, mixing elegance, wit and dash in his performance.

The ‘New World’ is, so far as I know, the only one of these works that Giulini recorded commercially with an American orchestra. He set it down with the Chicago Symphony in April 1977 for DG (review) and in addition there was a 1961 recording with the Philharmonia, which can be found in that Warner Classics box. Clearly, therefore, it was a work to which he was attached and that comes over in this performance. He generates a good tension in the first movement introduction while the Allegro molto is often fiery and muscular. Having said that, the lyrical flow that he achieves elsewhere in the movement is just as pleasing. The celebrated slow movement is full of poetry though I wonder if the plaintive second subject, introduced by the oboe at 5:00, isn’t perhaps just a bit too broadly paced. On the other hand, there’s no denying that Giulini brings out a sense of longing in that episode. There’s plenty of rhythmic vitality in the third movement and I like the lilt that is brought to the trio. The finale is good and strong, though here in particular I think the trumpets and trombones, at least as recorded, are a bit bight-toned and prominent.

All four performances on this set are very good and enormously enjoyable. The source material from which Andrew Rose has worked seems to be very good indeed and he’s effected an excellent transfer. This very welcome set is an unexpected opportunity for admirers of this great conductor to hear him at work with one of the USA’s leading orchestras. I wonder if there’s any more material from Giulini’s Boston concerts which Pristine could issue?

John Quinn
 



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