Mahler: Symphony No. 9; Schubert: Symphony No. 8 "Unvollendete"

Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Carlo Maria Giulini

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Mahler: Symphony No. 9; Schubert: Symphony No. 8 "Unvollendete" Review

by James Leonard

When Carlo Maria Giulini and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's recording of Mahler's Ninth Symphony was released on Deutsche Grammophon in 1977, it was immediately hailed by fans of the conductor and composer as a lyrical, colorful, dramatic, and consummately musical interpretation of the harrowing work. Re-released 30 years later, however, the performance does not hold up so well. Part of the responsibility is the Chicago Symphony's. Too often, the strings seem slightly sloppy, the brass too forward, and the balances poorly judged. But most of the responsibility is Giulini's. Where one hopes for surging developments, one gets episodic developments; where one anticipates soaring themes, one gets turgid themes; and where one expects intimate codas, one gets vague codas. And while some might want to place the blame on either the orchestra, the conductor, or the combination of the two, the inclusion of the same forces recording of Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony from 1978 shows that they could make fabulous music together. Here the Chicago sounds like one of the great American orchestras with a rich tone and a virtuoso technique, while Giulini sounds like one of the great postwar conductors, with his patented combination of high seriousness and deep emotionality. Recorded in lush, clear sound, this disc is well worth hearing for its Schubert, but less worth hearing for its Mahler.

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