For a master Brucknerian such as Giulini, this performance is rather un-Brucknerian. It is still expertly honed and crafted making it more than competitive with rivals such as Tintner and Karajan. The VSO is in fine form and plays exceptionally in spite of its 'second rank' status. The ADD sound is good and the interpretation is convincing.
This, for the most part, is exemplary. There are one or two areas where the orchestra is apparently strained but they always emerge triumphant in the face of tricky passages. The playing overall is highly pleasing, warm and surprisingly virtuosic. Regarding the competition, the orchestra sounds finer than Tintner's while perhaps not quite matching Karajan's superlative BPO.
Listen to those brasses. They play almost completely without coarseness. This may, for some, rob Bruckner's brass writing of some of its traditional character but it is doubtful you will resist its seductive warmth. They have a precision in elocution that can't be faulted. The woodwinds also put on a fine display though, at one juncture, a clarinet squeaks unbecomingly. Luckily this is a minor fault and occurs only once and certainly doesn't warrant the loss of a star. The strings play their part well, particularly the warm and expressive cellos and violas who are so important in this work.
Overall, the orchestra shows itself capable of homogeneity and individual intimacy. The freedom of expression that Giulini allows is warmly rewarded and the sense is apparently of playing for him.
This record has been given eminently satisfying sound. This permits the radiance of this performance to shine in all its magnificence and has little robbed from it by poor engineering.
The quality is warm and full and has a pleasant reverberation with a reasonable amount of 'air'. Also, and quite unusually for the early '70s, the sound benefits from a startling extension towards the bass which delivers the double-basses and timpani in powerful precision. Throw in the extensive dynamic range and the full package is delivered.
The single caveat is that, at load passages, the recording lends itself to a crude brittleness but its merely suggestive and there is worse that can blight a recording. Remember, this is the '70s and that the overall recorded sound is exceptional so don't let this incidental put you off.
Giulini leads with an excellent assuredness which is reciprocated by a faithfulness from the orchestra. Surprisingly, what springs to mind here is quite an un-Brucknerian impression of Giulin's soundscapes.
Giulini throws light on the important cellos and violas and these form the bedrock core of this sturdy conception. Through these, Giulini channels a tenderness that the orchestra responds affectionately to. In fact, the overall interpretation is quite gentle for a Bruckner symphony. Don't be put off, though, as Giulini retains the grand sweep of this work. The big point is, there are few uncomfortable corners in this performance and the famous pauses don't undermine the creative flow. Actually, the pauses are made to contribute to the overall pulse of the symphony.
Giulini's gentle manner often conveys a Mendelssohnian quality to the soundscape, especially when the winds are given centre stage. The darker moments of the first and second movements display something of the desolation described in Mendelssohn's own 3rd Symphony.
From the outset, Giulini is successful at setting the tone for the rest of the Symphony with a particularly tender and emotive view of the first movement's main theme - note the atmospheric rallentando and diminuendo in the last bar of the subject where the cello is left to sing lonesome and yearning notes. Giulini's treatment of the third movement is also very revealing. After a particularly plush and felt trio illuminated by a tender twilight glow, the scherzo is built up slowly again as to allow the trio's moment to be savoured. The full power of the scherzo's theme is not realised again for a good number bars and its delightful example for Giulin's perceptive control of the moment. This is not superficial stuff.
The finale has been conveyed in a demonic manner, a la Tintner, or in an air of pomp and circumstance, a la Karajan. Giulini gives us a middle way between the two and, while Karajan and Tintner play up the main theme more, (Tintner is using a very different finale, of course, which restores some of the best music to the finale making his record first choice) he continues the tenderness that creates the proper closure to his conception - and what an interpretation it is! The coda gloriously blazing to its climax.
To conclude, this may not be the most Brucknerian Bruckner 2, it remains an exceptional record worthy of full marks. Giulini allows the musical lines to meander and tenderly develop in a satisfying and convincing fashion. I find myself using a similar analogy that that Richard Osborne used in comparing Karajan's and Giulini's Bruckner 8ths; while Karajan's Bruckner burns fiery reds like the setting sun, Giulini's Bruckner glows warmly, like polished marble glinting in that sunset.