To save others the bother of comparing the two, this new box set is an exact duplication of EMI's previous tribute, "The Chicago Recordings," a great period in Giulini's career split between EMI and DG, who has also issued their own box set. both are very well worth their mid to bargain price, but as we approach the conductor's centennial in 2014, the real steal is EMI's "The London Years," which gathers dozens of great recordings at scandalously low cost.
Here is a reprint of my original review along with the contents of the set.
The reviewer who says that these are among the most celebrated of classical recordings is exaggerating. Giulini's Chicago recordings for EMI were mostly commercial failures and quickly vanished from sight after a brief life on LP. After a spectacular early stretch with Don Giovanni, the Marriage of Figaro, and the Verdi Requiem, Giulini should have shot to the top tier of recording artists.
But as one hears on this excellent but not great collection, Giulini's Mahler is not as exciting as Bernstein's, his Berlioz not as gripping as Colin Davis's, his Brahms not as full of integrity as Klemperer's or Karajan's. He stood well below those great condcutors for much of his career, and yet Giulini was undoubtedly special. He just continued throughout his career to be spotty. His Bruckner Seventh on a live BBC recording is spectacular, even better than his inward, mystical recordings of the Burckner Eighth and Ninth for DG. I greatly admire his DG Schumann Rhenish Sym., his Erocia and Beethoven Fifth, and a live War Requiem and Schubert Ninth, both on BBC--while also acknowledging that he made many other recordings that didn't touch greatness.
I think Giulini had greatness in him, but there was some inner chemistry that had to fire, and even he didn't know when that would happen. In this regard he was like Klaus Tennstedt, who was even more erratic.
Giulini should have given us a great Mahelr Ninth and Das Lied von der Erde, but he didn't. HIs Missa Solemnis and Beethoven Ninth should have been towering spiritual achievements, but they are actually almost routine by great conductor standards. Sadly, he had no sublime autumn to his career; the late recordings on Sony and DG are distressingly slack and ponderous, often parodying his famous spirituality on the podium.
I think eveyrthing in this bargain set is of a high standard, not Giulini at his very peak but close.
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17
Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98
Symphony No. 9 in D Minor
Symphony No. 1 in D major 'Titan'
The Firebird Suite
Petrushka - suite