Something historic this week. A concert from the 1961 Edinburgh Festival featuring Carlo Mari Giulini leading the Philharmonia in music by Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky. Recorded by the BBC on September 7, 1961 at Usher Hall in Edinburgh.
Starting with Mussorgsky’s Prelude to Act 1 of Khovanschina – followed by a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony number 6 “Pathetique’ and ending with Mussorgsky again; his Pictures at An Exhibition.
Giulini made his conducting debut with the Augusteo orchestra in May 1945. The following year, he became musical director of Italian Radio, forming the Milan Radio Orchestra in 1950 and making numerous broadcasts of little-known works. He made his debut in the opera house with La Traviata at Bergamo in the same year, and conducted important revivals of Verdi’s Attila (in a concert version) in Venice in 1951, and in 1952 Cavalli’s Didone at the Florence Maggio Musicale and Gluck’s Iphigénie En Tauride at Aix-en-Provence.
Return visits to these and other festivals brought more successes, but it was a broadcast performance of Haydn’s comedy Il Mondo Della Luna (The World Of The Moon, then virtually unknown) which proved the turning point. It attracted the attention of Arturo Toscanini, and subsequently of Victor de Sabata, who quickly engaged him as his assistant at La Scala: in February 1952, with Falla’s La Vida Breve, Giulini conducted his first opera at Italy’s most famous opera house, and succeeded De Sabata as its principal conductor in 1953.
Meanwhile he had not neglected the concert platform. He made his US debut in Chicago in 1955, and in 1958, at the time of the Covent Garden Don Carlos, began an association with the Philharmonia Orchestra which was to bear fruit in a rich succession of concerts and recordings for EMI.
This began in 1959 with two Mozart recordings, Don Giovanni and Le Nozze Di Figaro: brilliantly produced by Walter Legge, who assembled for both operas casts that could hardly be matched in their day, these have come to be regarded as classics. The records that followed during the early 1960s maintained a quality that came to be expected as a matter of course, and reflect a London concert repertory that included music by Schubert, Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Ravel, brilliant Rossini overtures and memorable performances of the Verdi Requiem – finally committed to disc, with the four Pezzi Sacri, in 1964.
This concert, from the 1961 season of the Edinburgh Festival was part of that long and historic association. Although many of the live concerts with Giulini and the Philharmonia have been issued commercially over the years, and this performance of Pictures At An Exhibition is one of them, many have not. As far as I can tell, neither the Khovanschina nor the Tchaikovsky from this concert have been released commercially – so you may have an extra added rarity here.
In any case – it’s Wednesday and it’s time to relax and get ready for the rest of the week.