Symphony No.8 in C minor (1890 version, ed. Nowak)
Symphony No.8 in G, Op.88
Carlo Maria Giulini
Bruckner recorded in the Royal Festival Hall, London on 18 September 1983; Dvořák recorded in the Royal Albert Hall, London on 8 August 1963; Rossini recorded in the Royal Festival Hall on 25 November 1963
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: October 2004
CD No: BBC LEGENDS
BBCL 4159-2 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 14 minutes
A generous compilation that offers concert performances 20 years apart, either side of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s ‘New’ phase, from a conductor that had a long and distinguished association with the orchestra. Giulini, now retired, celebrated his 90th birthday in May 2004.
Giulini’s conception of Bruckner’s mighty Eighth Symphony is, as might be expected, on a large and searching scale. This is an enthralling rendition (and preferable to his DG recording with the Vienna Philharmonic), one that has haunted this writer since the concert and which, two decades later, seems every bit as imposing and transporting as memory suggested. Giulini’s engrossing account is wholly organic. In the closing bars of the first movement, the ticking clock really does stop when the conductor, as Giulini does, resists even the merest suggestion of a ritardando. The scherzo may not go like a train but its very trenchancy builds up a fine head of steam, the trio bringing a temperate contrast. Throughout, there’s a focus on the music’s expressional reach and singular beauty that is the result of intensive study, painstaking preparation, and something not far short of ‘Holy Communion’ between conductor and composer, and between conductor and orchestra. The slow movement is intensely eloquent, and Giulini builds the finale to transcendent release.
BBC Legends has previously released a radiant Giulini Bruckner 7, exceptional, and now issues this ecstatic account of No.8; similarly it is a mandatory purchase.
The Dvořák, from the 1963 Proms, is in stereo; it’s a lyrical and fiery account, with thrilling passion and urgency alongside the most eloquent phrasing and sensitive balances; a real concert performance, one that followed by 18 months their studio recording for Columbia/EMI. It sounds very well too; and writing as someone who is very susceptible to digital re-mastering that intercedes into music’s ‘real’ tones – with tell-tale murkiness in bass and pianissimo passages and ‘watery’-sounding woodwinds etc – it is very gratifying to hear Tony Faulkner’s expertise here. His transfer hasn’t soured or bolstered the timbres; what we have is as honest as the performance itself, which is delightfully melodious and vividly detailed. And these audiophile comments are just as applicable to the Bruckner, which sounds just like a BBC relay from the Festival Hall (and more truthful than the BBC sometimes manages today!).
The Rossini (mono) is crisply dramatic and closes this pair of CDs (just as it did the 1963 concert) with a carefully crafted and bewitching texture of sound and exuberance.