By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
As the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 2010-2011 season nears its opening concerts Oct. 7-10 — the second season under Music Director Gustavo Dudamel — comes a look back into the orchestra’s history, courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon.
Thanks to a heads up from OC Register Music Critic Tim Mangan in his new Blog (LINK) for the note that DGG has released a CD set entitled Giulini in America: the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which includes several recordings made while the venerated Italian maestro Carlo Maria Giulini was music director of the Phil from 1978-1984.
The six CDs in the set (which costs $32.49 on Amazon.com) document recordings of Beethoven’s third, fifth and sixth symphonies, Brahms first and second symphonies, Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 (Rhenish) and Manfred Overture, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (Pathetique), Debussy’s La Mer, and Ravel’s Ma Mère l’aye (Mother Goose) and Rapsodie espagnole.
Another historical note: most of the recordings were done at the Shrine Auditorium adjacent to USC; two were made at UCLA’s Royce Hall. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where the Phil performed during Giulini’s tenure, was never considered a high-quality venue for recordings.
This set isn’t Giulini’s complete output with the L.A. Phil. In addition to Verdi’s opera Falstaff, which Mangan notes, the survey also doesn’t include Chopin’s two piano concertos recorded in performance with pianist Krystian Zimmerman (the company's response to my email query was that the concertos didn't count as "orchestral recordings"). Nonetheless, it’s a healthy slice of the sound and interpretations that made Giulini beloved by many during his too-short tenure with the Phil.
Luring the patrician Giulini to Los Angeles was one of the great coups of the Phil’s former executive director Ernest Fleischmann. Giulini succeeded Zubin Mehta at the Phil’s helm when Zubin headed off to New York City to head that city’s Philharmonic. In addition to being a radically different conductor than the flashy Mehta, Giulini’s hiring brought instant credibility to (and some jealousy of) the LAPO in the international music scene.
Another part of that credibility came when Giulini made the orchestra's first recordings for DGG (Mehta's recordings were on Decca/London).
Some of the highlights of the Giulini years are on these recordings. One that isn’t is Falstaff (which remains available). After refusing to conduct opera for nearly two decades, Giulini and the Phil mounted acclaimed performances of Verdi’s last opera in 1982 at the Pavilion, an endeavor that was so encouraging to Music Center officials that its success was a key factor in the founding of Los Angeles Opera four years later.
Although Giulini’s repertoire was extremely limited, his concerts were infused with a sense of something approaching spirituality; they remain unique in my half century of attending concerts. Giulini was forced to leave his L.A. post abruptly in 1984 to nurse his wife in Milan. He never conducted in Los Angeles again and died in 2005 at age 91. Fortunately, these CDs record some of his Los Angeles legacy.
(c) Copyright 2010, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.