Symphony No.94 in G (Surprise)
Mother Goose Suite
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Carlo Maria Giulini
Recorded on 26 January 1979; no information as to location documented
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: October 2005
CD No: PROFIL PH05037 [Haydn & Ravel]
Duration: 43 minutes [Haydn & Ravel]
A complete concert issued on separate CDs. Better, surely, to present it on two discs for the price of one, and with details of the location. It’s presumably the Herkulessaal in Munich.
Nevertheless, these are stellar examples of the art of Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-95), one of the truly great conductors. The Haydn is both weighty and affectionate and moves with aristocratic elegance. A full complement of strings appears to be used, yet textures are light and airy, and although the expression is ‘serious’, there is no doubting Giulini’s appreciation of Haydn’s good humour. The Minuet is grand, the trio effortlessly encompassed, and the finale is a model of how a moderate tempo equates to articulate shaping.
The Ravel is rarefied and poetic, and responds magically to Giulini’s ultra-sensitive moulding; so many colours and refined sensibilities to enrapture the senses.
The Brahms is the spacious and ‘significant’ account that one might expect: trenchant, wholesome, and with a subtlety of inner parts and a lyrical bloom that carries deep emotional conviction and, by the close, a noble and triumphant vindication.
Music-making of real distinction, then. But there is something of a problem: the digital re-mastering of what, given the Bavarian Radio source, will be high-quality analogue stock.
There are far worse examples around than these releases, and, indeed, in mezzo forte and louder passages the reproduction is satisfyingly full-blooded and detailed. The problem comes, as so often, with frequencies that are pianissimo and scored in the middle and bass areas. The desire to remove all vestige of hiss contaminates these particular frequencies, which is what has happened here; there’s a murkiness that is disconcerting – the second movement of the Haydn is a representative example of this unfortunate and avoidable tainting, so too the Andante of the Brahms, here given ‘heavenly length’ by Giulini.
The quietude and variegation of the Ravel is the worst affected; wisps of flute and violins are also heard against the ‘real’ thing. This Ravel taping is also available on IMG Artists’ Giulini release in the “Great Conductors of the 20th Century” series. The sound there is much preferable – and with more hiss! – and, also, separate tracks are allotted the five movements. IMG document the performance as 25/26 January, and confirm that the hall is indeed the Herkulessaal. (Splicing from two concerts will explain the occasional editing ‘bumps’ heard.)
Furthermore, Profil allows no ambience whatsoever before or after movements (and no applause; one has to imagine the eruption that most likely greeted the Brahms), which robs the occasion of ‘concert atmosphere’. Some gaps between tracks are too short, not least the four seconds between Haydn and Ravel!
Again, to emphasise the point, there are much worse examples of re-mastering around. But outstanding music-making such as this needs very careful work done on it, not just the ability to send recordings through a pre-programmed processor that churns out similar results: the opening of Brahms’s finale comes from the depths; here the double basses initially emerge as if under water.
With more sensitive listening, these Bavarian Radio masters could be ‘cleaned’ just so far and would yield superb results – across the whole dynamic and tonal spectrum that is classical music. I hope Profil will take these concerns seriously, especially as it’s a fine label and is also taking responsibility for some valuable material.