Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Carlo Maria Giulini – Schumann – Symphony No. 3 “Rheinish” & Overture “Manfred”

   It’s an interesting coincidence of how many great conductors were primarily orchestral viola players. Of course not as many as conductors who started as piano players. Piano is the best instrument for starting the study of scores and formal structures, but still from the group of viola players come a nice group of successful conductors. Maybe the center position of violas in standard sitting of symphonic orchestra gives the best chance to observe directly the art of conducting. Especially conductor’s face expressions being the essence of communication with the orchestra are a condition of success. Maybe there is also a syndrome of the first desk, where students are remembering more part of the lesson just because they have shorter perspective and have to be more attentive. Unfortunately I do not have statistical data to prove this opinion.
   One of the greatest conductors of viola players was Carlo Maria Giulini. In fact he was one of the best at all. He started playing viola in the orchestra of Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia when he was 18 and eight years later he won the Accademia competition giving him chance to become the orchestra conductor. But before he had chance to start, he was drafted and sent to the Croatia as a soldier. Italian army occupied the Balkans as allies of the Nazis. As an declared antifascist and pacifist Giulini had never shoot to human targets and later he refused to take part in further events. In last nine months of the war he was back to Rome and has been hiding because of nazist street posters showing his face instructed he should be shot of sight.

Giulini - Schumann - Rheinish Symphony, Manfred-Overture (1982)

   After postwar Rome debut and short period of directorship in La Scala, in 1956 he started his long time association with Philharmonia Orchestra and Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Later years he was developing series of widely acclaimed performances and cooperation with the best orchestras all over the world. One of the bands he achieved his greatest successes was Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, where in years 1978-1984 he was working as Musical Director. This was the moment in Giulini’s artistic biography when he focused on symphonic music and resigned of the opera performances. He made one exception with Verdi’s last opera Falstaff. Although this setup both as stage performances and recorded Deutsche Grammophon album aroused wide acceptance, Giulini recorded mainly symphonic works. This was even not numerous discography, only a dozen of albums, but what a renditions these recordings are!
   Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra was always playing with the kind of sound which is full of harmonics in every dynamic range and with perfect articulation making the whole sections sound like one musician – the same time powerful and subtle. This was why this orchestra gave so many possibilities for Giulini. The 1981 digital recording of two Robert Schumann’s symphonic works became a great success. The program of the Deutsche Grammophon 1982 album (Club-edition 46 373 7) are Symphony No. 3 “Rhenish” in E-flat major, op. 97 and Overture “Manfred”. Both performances are perfectly executed visionary interpretations.

Giulini - Schumann - Rheinish Symphony - Lebhaft 

   Marvelous sound and perfect proportions of orchestral sections give a chance for almost unlimited creativity. Giulini was always a creative personality and wise interpreter. In his interpretations he melted emotional contents with deep concern of musical tradition. Also these renditions of Schumann’s music are deeply serious and intellectual. In fourth movement of the Symphony, Feierlich he enhances polyphonic structures giving it more tragic tension which will be surprisingly solved in final part Lebhaft. Soft but precise articulation, full dynamic range and warm sound make this music captivating in deeper level of its symphonic narration. It was strikingly apparent then as so it is still, thirty years after publishing this famous album.

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