Carlo Maria Giulini = MUSSORGSKY: Prelude from Khovantschina; TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D Major; DVORAK: Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, Op. 70 – Kyung Wha Chung, violin/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini – Testament (2)

by | Feb 8, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Carlo Maria Giulini = MUSSORGSKY: Prelude from Khovantschina; TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35; DVORAK: Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, Op. 70 – Kyung Wha Chung, violin/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini

Testament SBT2-1439 (2 CDs) 44:07; 40:57 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005) appeared before the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra ninety-one times, having made his debut with the orchestra 10 October 1967. The concert of 11 May 1973 at the Philharmonie, Berlin features an all-Slavic program, an opportunity for conductor and ensemble to display their capacity to make vivid colors.

A lustrous clarity typifies the opening Prelude to Mussorgsky’s Khovantschina, long a staple of such conductors as Stokowski and Szell. The Berlin strings achieve a marvelously controlled tremolo – the woodwinds, brass, and percussion resounding with a mighty series of tolls as dawn breaks out throughout Moscow Square. Giulini then is joined by Korean virtuoso Kyung Wha Chung (b. 1948), who makes her own debut in this expansive version of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Chung proves an extremely sympathetic interpreter of the Tchaikovsky, leaning her Stradivari’s rich tone deeply into the arched phrases, often underlining a pointed note with resonant vibrato. The fast staccato and spiccato passages possess a nervous luster that quite impels us forward. In the expressive passages, the lyricism quite moves us to tears. Giulini, too, provides those tiny ritards in the melodic line to give no small drama to the balletic flux of the orchestra’s tuttis. Between the two large explosions in the first movement, violin and orchestra engage in a stately kind of gavotte that eventually gathers to a critical mass and lunges forth in Russian figures of mass and fury. Chung approaches the cadenza with the studied devotion we expect to hear in a Bach partita.  When the flute joins her with pizzicato accompaniment from the strings, the effect brings magic to this intense, often electrified performance.  The last pages blister the ear with unbridled, manifest bravura, the principals exerting every effort to release a Cossack horde upon our cloistered sensibilities.

The G Minor Canzonetta proceeds with requisite luster, the violin sailing between James Galway’s flute and the BPO bassoon with sylvan grace. The segue to the Allegro vivacissimo having been made, Chung advances upon the frenzy she will attain quite stealthily, then the wild dance can begin in earnest. Chung applies some dazzling, even raspy, fire to this extended movement–given her penchant for playing the repeats–yet the momentum rarely slows down despite the rhetorical fervor of the writing. Giulini allows the ensemble to catch tits breath one last time, indulging in stately dialogues in the woodwinds, before Chung reasserts her vocal hegemony over the others and lustily hastens to the paroxysms that define the last pages of this thrilling collaboration.

The Dvorak D Minor Symphony (1885) remains his most dramatic essay in the symphonic form, and the composer himself wanted it to convey the same impact he felt from the Brahms F Major Symphony. Curiously, at the time of Giulini’s polished, impassioned performance, Zubin Mehta had found this intensely tempestuous work a perfect vehicle for his tenure in Los Angeles. The Berlin French horn and aforementioned James Galway flute are in perfect form, and the music of the first movement heaves and thunders convincingly, with the bucolic interludes transporting us to a pantheistic Elysium. The musical periods cross currents in Wagner and Bruckner as well as Brahms, the final peroration of the first movement as powerful as some fine moments in Beethoven. The Poco Adagio invites Giulini to indulge his Romantic temper with full support from the BPO woodwinds, strings, and horns, the wealth of melody alone–with the melancholy falling seventh, pianissimo—ever effective. A gorgeous French horn solo punctuated by winds and plucked strings leads us on high without sacrificing the tense driven impulse that Giulini sets for his grand conception of this music.

The Scherzo–a miracle of Bohemian cross rhythms, three versus two–dances with Giulini’s innate Italian ancestry. Yet there exists a Brucknerian urgency in the drive, a threat of imminent tragedy that only the most relaxed trio in major key can alleviate. Giulini allows the trio to bask in its own softly clouded light, the gauzy film a moment of real serenity in a disturbed universe. The Finale: Allegro brings to a seamless culmination to all that preceded it, including a stunning realization of the A Major cello melody that pulsates alternately with a woodwind choir. Horns and trumpets already announce a procession to Dvorak’s version of Valhalla.  The last page Giulini squeezes for every anguished compassion he can muster. A convergence of genial spirits of the highest order and a serene reminder of what record-collecting can be all about.

–Gary Lemco


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