Gramophone's December 2014 playlists

Gramophone Mon 1st December 2014

Carlo Maria Giulini

Violinist Renaud Capuçon recalls performing in an orchestra under the great Italian conductor

In 1992, aged 16, I spent my summer playing with the European Community Youth Orchestra conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini. We played Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Lucerne, Amsterdam, Luxembourg and Munich. And my musical life suddenly changed. Giulini became my hero, my mentor. I began to collect his recordings, and go to all his concerts in Paris.

Playing for him, and with him, was a very deep inspiration. His authority in rehearsal, his devotion to music and his respect for the musicians was an example. Until now, I have kept these concerts with him as a personal treasure. He made me realise that a musician is nothing if he’s not a good person; his faith touched me very deeply. He was an example of humility. His life was devoted to his family and to music. He was a wonderful human being: kind, generous, elegant – and one of the most pure musicians who ever existed. His repertoire was not huge, but he needed to be in love with a piece to play and record it.

His recordings, made with his ‘dear orchestras’ (Vienna Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philharmonia, Berlin Philharmonic) are a testimony of this Great Musician. Here are my favourite recordings by Giulini, a musician and a man who changed my life.

Operatic paraphrases

Hugo Shirley offers a high-calorie cocktail menu of often technically fiendish operatic fantasies

We’ve plumped for the term ‘operatic paraphrase’, but these arrangements and reworkings come with many different names, in many different guises, often teetering on the boundaries of bad taste and physical possibility, running the gamut from straightforward to mind-bendingly complex. Liszt was the first great exponent, but his dazzling, dizzying Réminiscences de Don Juan shows how he attempted to go beyond the endless arpeggios and roulades of his rival Thalberg (represented here in his Fantasy on Rossini’s Moïse) to something more ambitious, striving for a musical coherence that is also found in Busoni’s Chamber Fantasy on Carmen.

Liszt’s Don Carlos paraphrase, like Sgambati’s exquisite later arrangement of Gluck’s Mélodie and Belgian virtuoso Louis Brassin’s take on Die Walküre’s Magic Fire Music, demonstrate what can be achieved in more faithful, if hardly less technically demanding transcriptions. Grainger’s dreamy, dewy-eyed Rosenkavalier ‘Ramble’ and Sorabji, in his kaleidoscopic operatic ‘pastiches’ demonstrate a new harmonic and timbral experimentation, while Yvar Mikhashoff, a champion of the post-war American avant-garde, offers a perhaps unexpectedly faithful but luxurious arrangement of ‘Vissi d’arte’. Finally, it might not be opera exactly, but Earl Wild’s wistful and witty Reminiscences of Snow White – complete with straight-faced ‘Heigh-ho’ fugato – shows there’s life in the genre yet.

Christmas music

Martin Cullingford recommends a playlist of seasonal listening, some familiar, and some more off piste

Gabriel’s Message opens my list, as this beautiful Basque carol has opened many an Advent season for me, soaring into the candle-lit darkness. On Qobuz you can find a lovely version from King’s, Cambridge. Where to go from there? Es ist ein Ros entsprungen – ‘A Spotless Rose’ – brings similar spine-tingling emotions (and memories of candlelit choirs). The King’s Singers version is a highlight of their enjoyable and appropriately titled album ‘Christmas’. If you need a forceful uplift to get you through the post-lunch siesta: colleague Jeremy Nicholas’s guide to seasonal organ showpieces (12/13) once sent me in the direction of William Thomas Best’s Christmas Fantasy on Old English Carols. A choral fantasia on carols from Vaughan Williams is next: hear our recent ‘Collection’ winner, from Richard Hickox, and feel your spirits soar. And if that’s too modern for you, then the exquisite ‘On Yoolis Night’ by Anonymous 4 takes us back to the 13th century: as Fabrice Fitch wrote of the album, it ‘conjures up a fricassee of reflection and revelry, and serves it with panache’. Another fascinating step into 13th-century Christmas – this time one heard around the Mediterranean – came from Boston Camerata and Joel Cohen in 2005. Finzi’s deeply moving In terra pax, drawing on Robert Bridges, St Luke’s Gospel and Finzi’s love of the English countryside, returns us to more recent times. Howells’s A Spotless Rose, another 20th-century Christmas classic, keeps us there, before Gaudete injects some vibrant tempo back into our list. Finally, Darke’s setting of In the Bleak Midwinter – as well trodden a snowy path as any, and rightly so. Merry Christmas!

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