Conductor Carlo Maria Giulini = ROSSINI: Overture to Semiramide; SCHUBERT: Symphony no. 4 in C Minor, D. 417 “Tragic”; FRANCK: Psyche et Eros; DEBUSSY: La Mer – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini
Testament SBT 1438, 74:50 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
The concert of 13 February 1969 at the Berlin Philharmonic has Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005) once more at the helm, now leading a program that traverses the early Romantic period through Impressionism, always informed by Giulini’s sensual intelligence of expression and innate colorful lyricism.
The opening piece, Rossini’s tempestuous Overture to Semiramide, immediately combines Italian melody and sparkling wit with forceful drama, the BPO woodwinds–especially the flute–and strings alternately bubbling, tripping, or exploding in graduated crescendi, as required. The horns, cymbals, and tympani make their fretful contributions, especially as the music accelerates into the kind of bravura spectacle of pomp and motley intensity that define the Rossini ethos at its most spectacular.
Giulini establishes the darkly-pained contours of Schubert’s 1816 Fourth Symphony from the outset, the woodwinds and strings muted in veiled harmony. The color of the writing might nod to Rossini, but the Allegro vivace communicates a restless spirit, tense and haunted. Despite the eventual concession to C Major, Giulini emphasizes the first movement’s stormy and stressful character, a clear extension of chromatic impulses derived from late Mozart and much of Haydn. Clarity of texture notwithstanding, Giulini’s reading sings in palpably nuanced terms, close to the Celibidache ideal. The A-flat Andante provides us that Schubert nostalgia we have come to love, the plaintive oboe coloring the melancholy walk through the paradise garden. Giulini invokes tender but nervous energy from the pulsating strings that accompany the yearning second theme. The Menuetto thrusts its own Romantic turmoil into the mix, with its chromatically jagged minor figures parried by a major-key trio. Giulini softens the tissue of the trio to conform to its laendler folkish character. Giulini winds up the BPO for an emotionally diverse finale, alternately melancholic, troubled, frisky, and heroic, ending in a resounding fanfare-like C Major. Schubert’s love of sub-mediant harmonies drives the chromatically rich brew, along with every sort of rhythmic ploy to which Giulini devotes loving attention.
Giulini always had a fondness for Franck’s 1888 cycle of symphonic poems, Psyche, and aficianados will recall an equally fine realization of the score from Los Angeles. Rarely mounted in its entirety, the work survives mainly through this one part, Psyche et Eros, whose melodic content, likely an extension of the Berlioz serpentine-harmonic line, appeals to our sense of plangent grandeur. When the trumpets enter, along with the thickly chromatic strings–particularly the BPO cellos–the patina well resembles Bruckner; though the thinning out of the texture reveals the transparency of Franck’s individual orchestration.
Giulini realizes a leaner brisker La Mer than that he would render 10 January 1978 (on Testament SBT 1434), but no less attuned to Debussy’s flexible sensuous line. Vivid color and rhythmic detail marks this lovingly etched performance, animated and erotic at once.