Busoni Sarabande und Cortège; Franck Psyché et Eros; Dvorák Symphony No 8
While Celibidache and Stokowski were “sound magicians” whose work occasionally spilled over into excess, Giulini was the most refined of sorcerers: everything I’ve heard from him is kept within the bounds of good taste, even performances from the 1950s and ’60s where the heat was full on. This Cologne Radio recording of Dvorák’s Eighth from 1958 is a fair case in point, powerfully driven, certainly – the first movement’s development could hardly be more urgent – but with artfully shaped lines and, in the symphony’s reflective coda, poetry that never lapses into sentimentality. Even the portamenti that warm the Allegretto’s Trio are gently underplayed. It’s a superb performance, the Cologne RSO playing flat out and with few audible blips.
Fair (mono) sound, too, whereas the 1971 Busoni and Franck items are in fuller-bodied stereo. Giulini brings a Webernian fastidiousness to Busoni’s Doktor Faust Sarabande, shimmering, shadow-filled music, sombre but infinitely subtle. The scampering start of the Faust Cortège “in the character of a Polonaise” recalls, to these ears, Sibelius’s Nightride and Sunrise from a couple of decades earlier, and again is given a superbly focused performance.
But the real highlight of the CD is Franck’s passionate Psyché et Eros, already known as a Giulini “special” from an older Philharmonia recording but here played with unsullied radiance, especially from the lower strings. This is Giulini on a roll, sensuality and spirituality held in perfect balance, a jewel of a performance, alone worth the disc’s modest asking price.