An acclaimed and versatile conductor, Carlo Maria Giulini started his musical studies as a violinist, attending the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome. He studied conducting with Bernardino Molinari at Santa Cecilia and Alfredo Casella at Accademia Chigiana in Siena. After graduation, he joined the Augusteo Orchestra in Rome as a violist. As an orchestral musician, he came in contact with the great conductors of the time, including Strauss, Mengelberg, Walter, Klemperer, and Furtwängler.
It was an eminently sensible decision to couple Zimerman's previously separate Chopin concertos on a single CD. The Ax/Ormandy/RCA disc is the only rival as a coupling, so let me say at once that in different moods I would be equally happy with either.
It's a recording that just a few years ago would have been mainstream: a "name" pianist (albeit one much less well known in the U.S. than elsehwere), who has been playing Mozart's piano concertos since childhood, joins forces with a name conductor with whom she has frequently collaborated, leading a modern-instrument orchestra of some 70 players, with the results released on a major international-conglomerate label. Now it's distinctly unusual. But lo, there's value in the old ways. Portuguese-Brazilian pianist Maria-João Pires is a lifelong Mozart specialist, but she still has new things to say in two of Mozart's most popular piano concertos. You can chalk it up to her Buddhist outlook if you like: her readings of the Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major, K. 595, and Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466, might be described as detached without being lifeless. Her approach is most startling in the Piano Concerto No. 20, where her no-drama shaping of the material runs sharply counter to type. Sample the piano's entrance in the first movement, where it offers a twisting, tense elaboration of the main theme that is far removed from its source material. Generally pianists use this to raise the tension level, but Pires lets the unusually shaped, chromatic line speak for itself with fine effect.
This album was recorded live at London's Wigmore Hall in January 2012, and it would be interesting to know whether its release was planned ahead of time or motivated by ongoing affection for the performances. Brazilian cellist Antonio Meneses and Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires have often played as a duo, and the easy conversational quality they have achieved is fully evident here. But the beauty goes beyond the usual chamber music competences. Meneses is rightly renowned for his rich tone, which remains undamaged even in the upper reaches of the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata in A minor, a work written for a defunct six-stringed instrument somewhere between cello and guitar; it lies a bit high for the cello, but Meneses is untroubled by that. The real star of the show, though, may be Pires, who contributes some deeply mysterious Brahms Intermezzi and calibrates her role with astonishing precision in the duo works, emerging into full duet partnership in the final Brahms Cello Sonata in E minor, Op. 38. Beautiful and more, with a dark, melancholy strain unifying the whole, this is chamber music reminiscent of the golden age. Deutsche Grammophon's engineering team also deserves notice for the startling live presence, undiminished by intrusions of noise.