Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Carlo Maria Giulini

Schubert: Symphony No. 4; Debussy: La Mer

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Very interesting but not very good, this disc of Carlo Maria Giulini's live performance with the Berliner Philharmoniker in February 1969 is still worth hearing by devoted fans of the conductor. The album is interesting because half of it is quite good, while half of it is, to be kind, not good. The good part is the first half: a sprightly take on Rossini's overture to Semiramide followed by a rugged reading of Schubert's C minor Symphony. The less good part is the second half: a soupy account of Franck's "Psyché et Éros" and a water-logged interpretation of Debussy's La Mer. While the Berlin musicians sound fully at home and wonderfully comfortable in the first half of the program, they sound lost at sea in the second half, not entirely sure how to balance Franck's diaphanous textures so that they come off as messy, and not at all sure how to keep things moving in Debussy's flowing seascape so that they sound like they're stuck in a tide pool rather than the ocean. The responsibility is Giulini's, who does not seem able to convince the Berlin players to follow him in the French repertoire, and while it's interesting to hear how they get it wrong, it's not interesting enough to hear twice. The live stereo sound is nowhere near colorful or present enough.

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