The Giulini/CSO performance of the Brahms 4th is, in my opinion, the finest, and certainly my undeniable favorite, of all time. I like the tempos, the playing, the artist's concept, and the dark, melancholy Brahms sound that CMG inevitably evinces from whatever orchestra he is leading. The CSO was a great instrument, period, and certainly a great one for him. But truthfully I have not heard him conduct a Brahms symphony with an orchestra that did not sound like the best Brahms orchestra.
As with Verdi, CMG was a master conductor of Brahms. And he got the most from his orchestras. They bought into his vision. I believe him to have been among the top three or four most insightful interpreters and communicators of Brahms in the 20th century. I am not alone in that. That takes in a lot of territory and some very great conductors. Since I am in my late 60's, that takes in some very great ones. But such was Giulini's stature. All one needs to do is listen to his recorded three cycles of Brahms Symphonies and the many additional single recordings out there, like this one with the CSO, about which I am so fond. There is no doubt in my mind that this one is the finest recorded performance of all time. That takes in some great performances, not to mention CMG's own great farewell performance with the Vienna Philharmonic in the early 90's.
Since this is certainly one of the great recorded performances of all time for the Brahms 4th, it is helpful to know what Giulini thought in general as he approached conducting Brahms. "In music everything is important, every note is important for everybody. But in Brahms, the hundred percent participation, the total intensity of every note is, I think, particularly and absolutely fundamental. At a given moment what we hear is the line that leads the composition. But this is the physiognomy of a face -- the nose, the mouth, the eyes. Then there is something which is very important, and that is what is inside this. And this interior body, with the bones and the nerves and the blood -- this is really something that I should say in Brahms, perhaps more than in other composers, needs to be absolutely a part of the physiognomy of the line. It is not only a harmonic or rhythmic element; it really participates one hundred percent in the life of the line, in all dimensions at once...For me, it is important to have the time to express this dimension in the espressivo way, and the dramatic way,and also dynamically. There should never be the impression that the tempo is set with an eye to just one effect -- a very fast tempo, for instance, just for a virtuoso or a fortissimo effect. There must always be not only a musical but a dramatic reason. I should never make a tempo fast in Brahms purely for a technical reason." (Jacobson, Bernard. Conductors on Conducting. Columbia Publishing Co, Frenchtown, NJ, 1979, pp. 216-217 -- sorry I do not have the formating necessary in this Amazon space to present that footnote in appropriate English style.)
What you have just read is Carlo Maria Giulini's artistic approach to the symphonic music of Johannes Brahms. It holds true in this performance as well as his farewell symphony cycle with the Vienna Philharmonic, which by the way is a clinic on interpreting and playing Brahms. Bernard Jacobson, recorder of CMG's statement, referenced this very performance on EMI with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, calling him in 1979, "one of the great Brahmsians of our day." At that time CMG had not done cycle 2 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic or cycle 3 with the Vienna Philharmonic. His Brahms conducting is a legend. And his thinking about Brahms profound in its totality.
I do not know a better representation of CMG's Brahms than this recording of the Fourth. I want to thank EMI for including it in its "Great Recordings Of The 20th Century" label. The CSO plays brilliantly. And who else is Carlo Maria Giulini on Brahms? And who can equal the partnership in this performance? Who else has had the number of Brahms Symphony recordings, live and studio, on the market as a tribute to his artistry?
I love every performance of the 4th I have heard him do. I believe, if one is a true Brahm's lover like me, it is hard to ignore the artistry and deserved reputation of CMG on every performance of Brahms anywhere, wherever you find it. Such lovers should just get everything he did on Brahms, as I have. But on top of this particular great performance with the CSO, one receives a brilliant tribute to this conductor, one of the 20th century's great baton artists, as well as fine early performances of the Tragic Overture with the Philharmonia and the Haydn Variations with CSO. I like this pairing of one of the great performances of all time on the 4th Symphony linked with the tribute to Carlo Maria Giulini's association with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and to the other smaller pieces. What a deal! Get it while it is still there.
Hold on to this recorded performance and pray for a better one in your lifetime. You may never hear a better one.