New York — As long as Carlo Maria Giulini had a regular association with the symphony orchestras of either Chicago (as principal guest conductor) or Los Angeles (as music director), we were pretty much assured of a generous flow of impressive recordings from Deutsche Grammophon (DG). Now that he is something of a free agent in Europe only, his visits to the recording studios, while no less memorable, are lamentably fewer. Three recent releases are all he has given us (with a Brahms ``German Requiem'' about to be issued), but all are jewels.
I must state at the outset that I am especially partial to Giulini's brand of musicmaking. In fact, he remains one of my favorite conductors of this or any day - in music that suits him. He is one of the few conductors left who is comfortable with the viewpoint that music is about the composer's unique, abstract vision of the here and hereafter. This is what animates music for Giulini, as well as the suffering he feels to be an intrinsic part of the creative process of the composers who inspire him most. Among those composers who have brought out his best are Mahler, Verdi, Dvorak, Mussorgsky, Beethoven, and Bruckner.
I consider Giulini's reading of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony the best classical recording of 1986. Now he has followed it with a sumptuous, thoughtful performance of the composer's Seventh Symphony in E major (DG, digital, 1 CD, 419 627-2, 68 min.). From the transcendent, hushed opening phrases, to the last blazing brass statement of the ``Finale,'' it is a memorable and riveting exploration, and the Vienna Philharmonic plays superbly.
With the Berlin Philharmonic, Giulini returns to a score he has recorded less than favorably in the past, C'esar Franck's once-wildly-popular Symphony in D minor (DG, digital, 1 CD, 419 605-2, 55 min.). In his earlier recording, he was not able to overcome a stodginess of style that made this tempestuous work sound rather trite. Now he has found a new responsiveness to the work that makes this a gripping performance. It goes without saying that the Berlin Philharmonic plays spectacularly well; those brass motifs are projected with an unforgettable impact. Giulini inspires the orchestra to a dark, turbulent volatility. And, although one could have wished for a more substantial filler than the graceful symphonic poem ``Psych'e'' (say, ``Le Chasseur maudit''), why quibble? What we have is remarkable.
Now that the Faur'e ``Requiem'' is all the rage, performances are being released as quickly as they can be recorded. Most are dull, some dreadful. Giulini's is magnificent (DG, digital, 1 CD, 419 243-2, 50 mins.). It's not only that he is so particularly in tune with European religious music, or that the Philharmonia Orchestra gives him the limpid tone and gossamer textures he asks for, but that Kathleen Battle makes the ideal soloist for the ``Pie Jesu.''
And though baritone Andreas Schmidt is no more than ordinary here, he is no less so than just about any other baritone who has recorded the work in the past five years.
The filler, Ravel's ``Pavane pour une Infante d'efunte,'' receives a performance both poignant and fragile.