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Revisiting Giulini in Chicago

Carlo Maria Giulini

Carlo Maria Giulini

It was a great time to be a music-lover in the windy city, when conductors like Sir Georg Solti, James Levine and Carlo Maria Giulini regularly took the Chicago Symphony out for a spin. Warner Classics has issued a collection of recordings of the orchestra from that time, a set featuring the northern Italian maestro Carlo Maria Giulini. The New Releases host Lisa Flynn calls this one a keeper. Here she is in a Q and A to talk about the 4-CD set.

Giulini worked in Chicago during the same years as Solti. Did Giulini bring out a different sound or approach to music-making?

Giulini began his association with the CSO in 1955 and then was principal guest conductor between 1969 and 1972, although he continued to come here until 1978. So that was still early in Solti’s leadership of the orchestra. The two definitely had different styles, but I think they complemented each other. Solti brought the virtuosity and orchestral colors that had been cultivated by Fritz Reiner to an absolute peak, while Giulini found the inner expressiveness and even spirituality in everything he conducted.

I’ve heard Giulini performances that felt uncomfortably slow initially, which is to say slower than what we’re used to, but once I adjusted to the tempi, I found them to be wonderfully organic and full of surprises. Did you have similar experiences with this set?

I’ve heard similar comments about the slowness of Giulini’s performances. That may be true for some of his later recordings with the Los Angeles Philharmonic when he was older, but I don’t hear it in this set of CSO recordings. In the Stravinsky ballets (The Firebird and Petrushka), for example, there’s incredible clarity and a driving energy without feeling rushed.

People talk about the characteristics of a conductor. What do they say about Giulini?

Everything I’ve read about Giulini (including the extensive liner notes in this recording) describes him as gentlemanly, elegant, reserved, yet commanding in his authority. Early in his career he said he detested the dictatorial approach of some conductors and that he wanted every musician to feel they had an important role in the creative process.

Is there a specific performance in this set that makes it a must-have?

The Stravinsky works and Mahler First are real stand-outs, but the whole set is wonderful. Warner Classics has issued two other sets – The London Years and Concertos – all commemorating the 100th anniversary of Giulini’s birth in 2014. So there’s lots for Giulini fans to enjoy this year!

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