This afternoon a critic friend of mine (yes, it happens) posted a video of Brahms’ Fourth in commemoration of Giulini’s 98th birthday.
Here it is.
I was deeply impressed, as always, with this conductor’s modesty, intense concentration, complete lack of theatrical antics, and total mastery and calm. In terms of conducting technique one can only admire Giulini’s beginning of the first movement. This particular upbeat is immensely difficult to do, here it is effortless.
Reassuring, very moving and entirely convincing, although I personally would ‘do’ the piece very differently; for me, Furtwängler’s explosive reading, especially of the last movement, some of which can be seen here, is the absolute epitome of everything that music can ever reach in terms of white-hot frenzy, even if it is ‘too fast’ for every note written in the score actually being played. Who cares?
So which interpretation is ‘better’?
I think that these two recordings show better than anything that such a question is completely invalid. However different they are, they share a dedication to seriousness that is so often lacking today, an uncompromising stance towards music, total immersion in and identification with the work and an elementary, almost archetypical impact.
And that is all. Music is there, or it is not. Here, in both approaches, it is.