Carlo Maria Giulini A Profile
Old friends from the 1950s and 1960s—some as bright as buttons, others grown pale in the light of fresher successors. EMI's Profile two-disc twofers suggest a whole new world of reissue potential: Kurtz, Silvestri, Kletzki, Kogan, Solomon, names and recordings that inhabit a fertile no man's land between 'new' and 'historical', but that fully warrant renovation and mid-price availability.
The Giulini collection is a rich trawl indeed and generates a brand or re-creative alchemy that neither orchestra nor conductor achieved separately. Bewitching, I'd say—the Alborada del gracioso, especially, finely tensed and colourful yet darkening perceptibly for the mysterious quieter sections. Like the Daphis Suite and Psyche the Alborada benefits from Giulini's control, his ability to draw warm, malleable lines and achieve a luminous tonal blend. The two symphonies have an old-world flexibility that's in marked contrast to some contemporary rivals: the Tchaikovsky is excitable yet frequently elegant (but be prepared for two small cuts in the finale), the Franck more lyrical than imposing. Best of all, perhaps, is a hugely atmospheric account of the Peter Grimes Sea Interludes, ''Wednesday Morning'' in particular having a Petrushka-style vividness. Only
Paul Kletzki was an unfussy interpreter, more an honest reporter than a magician. Like Klemperer and Kubelik, Kletzki was himself a composer and his best performances combine textural clarity with a guiding intuition. His Mahler Fourth remains highly competitive, a gentle, clear-headed affair that asserts itself only at the composer's command and has the distinct advantage of a superb soloist in the finale. The Fifth Symphony's Adagietto is earnestly expressive, the Tchaikovsky Andante cantabile, warm and confidential, while Glinka's Jota (played here minus its slow introduction), Schubert's Rosamunde Overture and Rimsky's Tsar Saltan Suite are alert, incisive and sympathetically phrased. The one relative disappointment is a restless Sibelius Second which, although not without its virtues (the second movement works up to some exciting climaxes), is too headstrong and untidy to withstand powerful mid-price competition.
The Efrem Kurtz miscellany is full of winning confections; in fact, only the two Masquerade items seemed to me less than exceptional. The Shostakovich and Prokofiev First Symphonies have an exploratory, fresh-minted quality that explains their longevity as an LP coupling, high-spots being Shostakovich's Allegro and Prokofiev's finale. Kurtz's Golden Cockerel Suite has something of Beecham's pictorial sense, something of Dorati's drive, while his Snow Maiden Suite and Dubinushka still sound pretty remarkable. Kabalevsky's circus-style, ten-piece Comedians Suite gets the outing of its life, but the best of the shorter works by far are the four Liadov pieces, exquisite miniatures all of them, and played here with the utmost poise, precision and sense of fantasy. These alone are worth the price of the entire set.
The prize of the Kogan collection is an uncommonly forthright Symphonie espagnole, all brilliance and intensity, and with a like-minded Philharmonia accompaniment under Kondrashin. Kogan's Brahms is strong and ardent, less personal perhaps than that of his great compatriot, David Oistrakh, but refreshingly direct. However, his relatively straitlaced Beethoven is somewhat hampered by Constantin Silvestri's over-attentive accompaniment (odd little hesitations and affectations and so on), and although the partnership works better in Tchaikovsky, there the recording oscillates between mono and stereo, a real distraction if you happen to be listening on headphones. Kogan's Serenade melancolique makes for a touching filler, but I can think of other recordings that serve Kogan's memory better—none of them, alas from the EMI stable.
Lastly, to Solomon, he whose interpretative humility is in itself profoundly humbling. How could anyone fail to appreciate such composure, control and innate good taste? For Beethoven's Third Concerto, Solomon chooses Clara Schumann's impressive first movement cadenza which he blends in to Beethoven's musical context with consummate expertise. Solomon's playing has the immaculate finish of a perfectly schooled technician, of a musician who habitually avoids excess and is unfailingly mindful of the composer's intentions. But these recordings were among his last, and although the Beethoven works are imbued with a noble classicism, the Grieg and Schumann concertos sound comparatively earthbound. However, they are—like everything else in this set—so beautifully executed, so considerately phrased that I register my preference for something a little more overtly demonstrative not as criticism, but for the sake of those who, like myself, prefer a rather more colourful brand of romantic pianism.
A fine series, then, very well remastered and prophetic, I hope, of even greater things to come. How about Silvestri's Tchaikovsky symphonies (maddening for some, inspiring for others), and 'profiles' of Moiseitwitsch, Kempe, Karajan, Kubelik, Furtwangler (so much of whose EMI material isn't domestically available), Cziffra David Oistrakh, Milstein (Bach unaccompanied works), Stokowski (Capitol recordings), etc? But as a packaging concept, a definite thumbs up!'