Schubert, Weber, Britten

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Britten,Schubert,Weber
WORKS: Symphony No. 9 in C (Great); Der Freischütz Overture; The Building of the House Overture
PERFORMER: New Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra, LPO/Carlo Maria Giulini
Carlo Maria Giulini, celebrating his 90th birthday this year, consistently fashioned performances of genuine nobility (often couched in deliberate tempi) and carefully sculpted sonorities. These live recordings do nothing to belie that reputation, but they also feature greater visceral excitement and sheer forcefulness than one usually associates with this soulful interpreter, and the results are pretty spectacular. The centrepiece is Schubert’s Great C major Symphony in a 1975 performance with the London Philharmonic (the orchestra mostly conceals the ragged edges that sometimes afflicted it around that time). The recorded sound is nothing special, but the music-making certainly is. Giulini preserves proportional tempi between the Andante of the introduction and the Allegro ma non troppo of the first movement proper, thereby making the former fleeter and the latter heavier than might be ideal. The conviction of the playing overrides this atypical ideological rigidity, however, and the second and third movements are likewise palpably expressive. The finale is even better – swift yet unforced, infectious yet inexorable, and utterly lacking in affectation, this performance makes as powerful and cumulative an effect as any I know. For all its many (and, on balance, more numerous) virtues, the much-admired Günter Wand recording of this symphony does not aim as high as Giulini in the finale. Giulini displays considerable flair in Britten’s The Building of the House Overture and endows Weber’s overture to Der Freischütz with almost moral significance. All in all, this outstanding disc adds a new dimension to Giulini’s distinguished discography. David Breckbill