Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Carlo Maria Giulini

Bruckner: Symphony No. 8

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In this live 1984 recording of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony by Carlo Maria Giulini and the Berliner Philharmoniker, it's possible to point to technical lapses -- the occasional less-than-precise attack and release, or to what could be called interpretive lapses -- there is rarely the sense of a strong individualist on the podium. But given the overwhelming character of the performance, these seem like picayune quibbles. And this is indeed an overwhelming performance. Giulini was not the sort of conductor to ask what a piece of music could do for him; he asked what he could do for the piece of music. In the case of Bruckner's mighty and monumental Eighth, that means staying out of the way and letting the music speak for itself, which it most eloquently does. With the Berlin orchestra in superb, if not quite perfect, form, Giulini delivers an account of immense power, incredible drive, tremendous pathos, and unstoppable determination. As the performance moves from the darkness of the opening Allegro moderato through the suffering of the central Adagio to the brilliant light of the Finale, any cavils a critic might have are swept away, so that after the closing bars' colossal peroration, one is left limp and shaken. Though the sound is not as rich and deep as it might be, it is still more than adequate.

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