A mighty Brahms 1st
Mr Darcy | Australia | 11/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 1979 live recording confirms once again Giulini's greatness as a conductor of this work and of Brahms generally. Giulini's ability to convey the epic quality of the 1st Symphony, its tragedy fused with heroism, is second to none.
Of the four Giulini recordings that I own (the other three being a 1981 performance with the LAPO, a 1988 performance with the BPO and a 1990 peformance with the VPO), this may just be the most recommendable, especially for those who want to get a taste of Giulini's art in this Symphony.
The LAPO version, similar to this live performance in overall pacing, was unfortunately compromised by the early digital sound - a dry and lightish bass being one of the problems. This Bavarian Radio live performance, however, also edges out the LAPO version by having an added degree of tension and drama, particularly in the final movement where the Bavarian players create an overwhelming sense of momentum and inevitability towards the Symphony's conclusion.
Giulini's tempos are broad but seem quite natural (total timing is nearly 50 minutes - the timings set out on the amazon website are incorrect). For this reason, the Bavarian performance is probably a safer recommendation than the VPO version whose tempos may strike some as too idiosyncratic. My personal favourite is the 1988 performance with the BPO on Memories Excellence, very similar in concept to the VPO performance but slightly keener in tension, perhaps owing to it being a live performance; unfortunately, however, this CD is not widely available. BBC Legends has also released a live 1962 performance with the London Philharmonia which I have not yet heard.
As with Giulini's other performances of this work, a feature of this performance is the conductor's sense of structure and thematic continuity. Thus, in the first movement, it would seem that Giulini is seeking to emphasise that the allegro which follows the un poco sostenuto is very much imbued with the spirit of the un poco sostenuto. The allegro therefore is taken at a tempo which, although faster, is not significantly faster (some conductors tend to exaggerate the difference in tempo). The effect is one of great organic cohesion, with weight and a relentless combativeness pervading the entire movement. Similarly, in the last movement, after the presentation of the famous melody which opens the allegro non troppo, Giulini refuses to suddenly race ahead - instead what we get is a more natural development where the strain of nobility in that opening melody is maintained.
Within the limitations of a live performance, the Bavarian orchestra plays very well. Strings and brass produce the velvety dark sound quality that one associates with Giulini. I've not heard a more beautiful account of the slow movement, with the concert master's solo exsquisitely presented against the orchestral backcloth.
The sound is generally a good Brahms sound: full and rich. However, as the earlier review notes, it has been filtered in order to remove hiss and other extraneous sounds, which flattens the sound picture somewhat. A pity, but not a major obstacle in deciding whether to purchase this performance.
A Brahmsian Master
Roger W. Wood | Jacksonville, Florida | 06/19/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Few know it, but Giulini grew up Austro/Italian, speaking German as well as Italian. He relates how he grew up hearing Brahms (Conductors on Conducting, Bernard Jacobsen, Columbia Publishing, Frenchtown, NJ, 1979, 222-223), watching him conducted by Walter, Furtwangler, Klemperer, de Sabata, etc. and absorbing Austrian culture as well as Italian. Not just Verdi, but also Brahms. He got them both. He conducted Brahms for over 50 years. No one over his lifetime has done Brahms more excellently. The only other conductor I know who approaches Giulini's passion and definition on Brahms is Furtwangler. Giulini has three recorded Brahms Symphony cycles with the Philharmonia of London (1960s), Los Angeles Philharmonic (1970-1980s), and the Vienna Philharmonic (1980-1990s), as well as countless individual performances, one of which is this one.
This '79 live concert with the BRSO is the greatest single performance I have ever heard of the Brahms 1st. That with even all the technical detriments and glitches! Oh yes, he does it extremely well with the PO, the LAPO, and the VPO(and other singles, like the '62 BBC live recording from Edinburgh with the PO - another towering performance!). But this one is the most towering performance of my experience. I am a major Brahms lover. No one does for me what Brahms does. And no one does Brahms better than Carlo Maria Giulini. The authority and definition with which he conducts this music is awesome. Mr. Darby's review gives excellent musicological perspective on this.
I can only say to Brahms lovers like me out there: Get it before you can't."
A Brahms First for the ages
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 12/16/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I happened upon this live 1979 Brahms First before reading the Amazon reviews, and I can only offer my agreement. This is serious, even cosmic, Brahms on an order that only Furtwangler equals and surpasses. Perhpas Furtwangler went too far; his various Brahms Firsts are wrenching experiences. Giulini stops short of tearing the listener apart. I don't think the sonic limitations are as extreme as Scott Morrison says, but stereo systems differ, and there's no doubt that the sound here is veiled in some murkiness.
As for comparison with Giulini's other recordings, the passion and flexible alertness of the Bavarian Radio musicians sweeps away the Los Angeles version, the only ohter account I know from Giulini. Anyone who is bowled over by this CD should investigate another live performance on Profil, of the Bruckner Ninth, which also exceeds Giulini's two studio recordings by a wide margin."