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Classical 101

Conductor Carlo Maria Giulini

Conductor Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005) is the subject of a new biography by Thomas D. Saler entitled Carlo Maria Giulini: Serving Genius. The book offers is a factual representation of Giulini's long career and an examination of the man who made such splendid music.

Giulini on Mozart

Giulini was the conductor of two splendid recordings of Mozart operas, both for EMI: Don Giovanni with Sutherland, Waechter, Alva and Schwarzkopf, the latter at her least irritating; and Le nozze di Figaro with Moffo, Taddei, Cossotto and Schwarzkopf again (sigh). In both recordings, Giulini makes theater. This is the Mozart who hid in the wings during the rehearsals of the Don Giovanni premiere to pinch Zerlina's fanny. The Figaro recording reminds us that Beaumarchais's subtitle is Une folle journee (One Crazy Day). This is the Don Giovanni that must have terrified audiences when the fearful statue of the Commendatore comes to life, demanding repentance.  These performances are opera as drama that never sacrifices musical beauty. For example, here's the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, from Los Angeles in the 1970s. These last few minutes are often played at fever pitch hysteria, robbing Beethoven of the dignity and gravitas written into his music. Giulini, to me, gets the balance just right.  The recording quality is not good, but this is spectacular Beethoven http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eoalPlPdMU Among the soloists I recognize the American soprano Carol Neblett and the bass Simon Estes. I think the tenor is the Britisher Robert Tear.

Giulini on Verdi

The Beethoven Ninth was specialty of Giulini's. But for the world, at least for me, it was his performances of Verdi's Requiem that has never been equaled. It may be a small point but look how he waits until :37 in the following clip, look how he gathers himself before beginning the shattering Dies irae. The pause is not for latecomers and not for audience restlessness, its for him and for Verdi http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4M6VAYVWq8

Giulini's Passion

Saler writes of Giulinis' deep spirituality, his concern for all of those around him, his devotion to his wife and three sons. (He curtailed his career in the early 1980s when Marcella Giulini became ill and reportedly her death nearly destroyed him.) There's no scandal and no sensationalism in this book. Refreshingly, what we have here is well-written and well-documented admiration for a deep and important artist. The most horrifying parts of Giulini's life came early, during World War II, when Italy fell to the allies and Giulini went into hiding - in a cave! - to practice viola by candlelight while trying to remember scores. His early carer was with Rome's Augusteo Orchestra (later the Accademia di Santa Cecilia) where he played viola under de Sabata, Bohm, and Furtwangler. Giulini's early conducting dates took him to La Scala where he was de facto music director in the early 1950s. Among his best productions was Verdi's La traviata in 1955, directed by Luchino Visconti, starring Maria Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano. Europe's most important recording orchestra in the 1950s and 1960s was the Philharmonia in London. Giulini was music director there, and it was with the Philharmonia that he began the recording career that lasted forty years. In addition to a searing-and beautiful-Verdi Reqiuem his Philharmonia recordings include the symphonies of Beethoven, some of Haydn and Mozart, and another specialty, Brahms: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yx-Fylg9mRs (OK, the clip is from La Scala, not the Philharmonia, but you get the idea-and do you hear all the inner voices? That balance, too, was a Giulini specialty, the product of a superb ear and all those years playing the viola!) Giulini enjoyed a fascinating co-directorship (with Solti, and no two conductors could be any different!) of the Chicago Symphony. His American career ended with the directorship of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Giulini stayed closer to home (Milan) when his wife became ill in the 1980s, and he continued to appear in Europe after her death in 1995.

The Best of Giulini

Today we have Giulini's many recordings and performances on DVD. In addition to the aforementioned Mozart operas and La traviata, his recording of Verdi's Don Carlo is the one to have. I love his Brahms -the Symphonies and by all means the Deutsches Requiem recorded in Vienna in 1988 (N.B. The Brahms Requiem recording goes with me to the proverbial desert island. DGG 423 574-2); the peerless Verdi Requiem with the Philharmonia, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition also with the Philharmonia, and his sensational  La mer of Debussy with the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, very late in Giulini's career. If you want to hear great musical Technicolor (and beauty - again, Giulini was all about making it beautiful), then this Debussy -Ravel CD from Sony Classical is for you.