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Brahms: Symphony No. 4; Tragic Overture; etc. (Bonus CD)
Victor Godfrey, Johannes Brahms, Spoken Word
Brahms: Symphony No. 4; Tragic Overture; etc. (Bonus CD)
Genres: Special Interest, Classical
  •  Track Listings (15) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (8) - Disc #2


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CD Reviews

Brilliant Brahms, Worthless Disc
Michael B. Richman | Portland, Maine USA | 03/12/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Those who have read my reviews know that I treasure many of the performances in the "Great Recordings of the Century" series. Though lately, EMI has made some questionable decisions regarding this series to say the least. Take this title featuring Carlo Maria Giulini's 1969 recording of Brahms' 4th Symphony with the Chicago Symphony, and Variations on a Theme of Haydn with the Philharmonia from the early 60s. (Also included here is a bonus disc with an interesting, but hardly essential, profile of the conductor.) True, the Brahms performances are nothing short of brilliant, but there is simply no need for them to be issued here. The Haydn Variations is available on an EMI Import in the "Rouge et Noir" series, also featuring Giulini's performances of the two Brahms Piano Concertos with Claudio Arrau (see my review). Granted, most people will not have that set, but here's the real clincher. The very same Brahms 4th performance featured here was released just three months earlier on the 4CD set "Carlo Maria Giulini: The Chicago Recordings." That tribute to the conductor on his 90th birthday is a terrific value at less than twice the cost of this title -- yet you get four times the music! Who in their right mind is going to buy this single disc when for a few dollars more they can get "The Chicago Recordings?" The smarter thing to do would have been to reissue Giulini's Brahms 4th with the New Philharmonia Orchestra (that was featured in the old 2CD "Seraphim" series) on this GROTC title, but in fairness the Chicago recording is slightly better. So I guess ultimately EMI just shouldn't have bothered with this CD at all."
The Best Fourth?
Roger W. Wood | Jacksonville, Florida | 06/19/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The Giulini/CSO performance of the Brahms 4th is, in my opinion, the finest, and certainly my undeniable favorite, of all time. I like the tempos, the playing, the artist's concept, and the dark, melancholy Brahms sound that CMG inevitably evinces from whatever orchestra he is leading. The CSO was a great instrument, period, and certainly a great one for him. But truthfully I have not heard him conduct a Brahms symphony with an orchestra that did not sound like the best Brahms orchestra.

As with Verdi, CMG was a master conductor of Brahms. And he got the most from his orchestras. They bought into his vision. I believe him to have been among the top three or four most insightful interpreters and communicators of Brahms in the 20th century. I am not alone in that. That takes in a lot of territory and some very great conductors. Since I am in my late 60's, that takes in some very great ones. But such was Giulini's stature. All one needs to do is listen to his recorded three cycles of Brahms Symphonies and the many additional single recordings out there, like this one with the CSO, about which I am so fond. There is no doubt in my mind that this one is the finest recorded performance of all time. That takes in some great performances, not to mention CMG's own great farewell performance with the Vienna Philharmonic in the early 90's.

Since this is certainly one of the great recorded performances of all time for the Brahms 4th, it is helpful to know what Giulini thought in general as he approached conducting Brahms. "In music everything is important, every note is important for everybody. But in Brahms, the hundred percent participation, the total intensity of every note is, I think, particularly and absolutely fundamental. At a given moment what we hear is the line that leads the composition. But this is the physiognomy of a face -- the nose, the mouth, the eyes. Then there is something which is very important, and that is what is inside this. And this interior body, with the bones and the nerves and the blood -- this is really something that I should say in Brahms, perhaps more than in other composers, needs to be absolutely a part of the physiognomy of the line. It is not only a harmonic or rhythmic element; it really participates one hundred percent in the life of the line, in all dimensions at once...For me, it is important to have the time to express this dimension in the espressivo way, and the dramatic way,and also dynamically. There should never be the impression that the tempo is set with an eye to just one effect -- a very fast tempo, for instance, just for a virtuoso or a fortissimo effect. There must always be not only a musical but a dramatic reason. I should never make a tempo fast in Brahms purely for a technical reason." (Jacobson, Bernard. Conductors on Conducting. Columbia Publishing Co, Frenchtown, NJ, 1979, pp. 216-217 -- sorry I do not have the formating necessary in this Amazon space to present that footnote in appropriate English style.)

What you have just read is Carlo Maria Giulini's artistic approach to the symphonic music of Johannes Brahms. It holds true in this performance as well as his farewell symphony cycle with the Vienna Philharmonic, which by the way is a clinic on interpreting and playing Brahms. Bernard Jacobson, recorder of CMG's statement, referenced this very performance on EMI with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, calling him in 1979, "one of the great Brahmsians of our day." At that time CMG had not done cycle 2 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic or cycle 3 with the Vienna Philharmonic. His Brahms conducting is a legend. And his thinking about Brahms profound in its totality.

I do not know a better representation of CMG's Brahms than this recording of the Fourth. I want to thank EMI for including it in its "Great Recordings Of The 20th Century" label. The CSO plays brilliantly. And who else is Carlo Maria Giulini on Brahms? And who can equal the partnership in this performance? Who else has had the number of Brahms Symphony recordings, live and studio, on the market as a tribute to his artistry?

I love every performance of the 4th I have heard him do. I believe, if one is a true Brahm's lover like me, it is hard to ignore the artistry and deserved reputation of CMG on every performance of Brahms anywhere, wherever you find it. Such lovers should just get everything he did on Brahms, as I have. But on top of this particular great performance with the CSO, one receives a brilliant tribute to this conductor, one of the 20th century's great baton artists, as well as fine early performances of the Tragic Overture with the Philharmonia and the Haydn Variations with CSO. I like this pairing of one of the great performances of all time on the 4th Symphony linked with the tribute to Carlo Maria Giulini's association with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and to the other smaller pieces. What a deal! Get it while it is still there.

Hold on to this recorded performance and pray for a better one in your lifetime. You may never hear a better one."
A Fine Introduction to Brahms and Giulini
Jon. Yungkans | Whittier, CA USA | 10/23/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"The other reviewer of this disc has a good point about EMI duplicating the release of the Chicago Brahms 4th Symphony in its Chicago Recordings tribute to Giulini. However, as a primer for Giulini's approach with Brahms (or for those who don't really want all the extra music in teh Chicago box set, fine as it may be), this Great Recording of the Century release does fill a niche. It also begs the question of when EMI will remaster and re-release Giulini's performances of the four symphonies and Academic Festival Overture with the Philharmonia. A box set of these, the shorter works on this disc and perhaps the two piano concertos with Claudio Arrau would not only be a fitting tribute, but is also a long overdue one. Meanwhile, this release will do nicely, even as it whets our appetites for more.

From the sharp crack and force of the pair of opening chords, this performance of the Tragic Overture announces itself as a sleek, muscular tiger of music making, moving with plenty of power and a coiled-spring intensity but also possessing a feline grace and a deep, smoldering warmth that could - and often does - explode into white-hot passion. The Haydn Variations that follow are equally fine, capturing all the joy, yearning and humor of Brahms in his sunnier moods.

Operatic, in the best sense of the word, could best describe Giulini's approach to the Fourth Symphony. As Sir Simon Rattle, who served as an associate conductor under Giulini in Los Angeles, points out in the liner notes, "It is one of those performances in which you feel the musicians are playing not the notes but the stories of their lives." Along with passion, the greatest quality Giulini and the CSO bring to the Fourth is patience - the willingness to take the time needed to fully express these emotions and to allow the music to breathe and sing to the utmost.

My only quibble is with the finale. After the overall building of tension in the first three movements, Giulini pulls back from the dramatic and emotional cliff's edge instead of lunging toward it as we have been led to expect. The approach is too noble, the playing too precise and careful, to really be satisfying. Nevertheless, it is a valiant effort, and there will be plenty who may hear this performance and disagree with this opinion.

The bonus disc, "Giulini - A Profile," includes spoken contributions from the maestro as well several in the world of music who worked with him. Taken from "Giulini at 90," a tribute made by the WFMT Radio Network, this documentary leans heavily on Giulini's years in the world of opera that eventually catapulted him into international stardom. It is nevertheless an extremely informative commentary on the conductor's life and career, accompanied by several musical clips that show Giulini at his finest.