Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 3
Claudio Abbado, cond; Anna Larsson (alt); Women of the Arnold Schoenberg Ch; Tölz Boys’ Ch; Lucerne Festival O
MEDICI ARTS 2056334 (Blu-ray: 102:00) Live: Lucerne 8/19/2007
As a teenager at the dawn of the Mahler revival, I first made the acquaintance of Mahler’s Third through the noisy SPA LPs shakily conducted by Charles Adler (for a discussion of the inexplicable CD reissue, see
11:4). It didn’t make much of an
impression, and it was with more curiosity than enthusiasm that I went to hear Leonard Bernstein conduct with the New York Philharmonic as a memorial for Dimitri Mitropoulos in April 1961. Is it really possible that, as I remember it, my life was changed as soon as I heard the first two notes? Probably not. But it was certainly changed by the end of the finale: Bernstein’s combination of raucousness and intensity spoke directly to my adolescent soul (I think that word is appropriate in a case like this), and despite first-rate competition from Scherchen, Levine, Boulez, Tilson Thomas, and a host of others, the recording Bernstein made the day after that concert has remained my touchstone ever since.
Until now. Abbado’s latest Third (reviewed in its DVD release by Christopher Abbot in 32:3) is, of course, quite different—exuberant rather than unruly in the first movement, luminous rather than painfully overwrought in the finale. And while it hasn’t quite replaced the Bernstein in my affection, it does offer such a compelling alternative vision that it deserves a place of honor right next to it. In part, its quality comes from Abbado’s understanding of the symphony’s overall design, gained from a lifetime of performances—an understanding that allows him not only to hold the finale together almost as if it were a single, drawn out phrase, but also to remind us of how it serves to answer the challenges of the first movement. In part, its quality comes from Abbado’s unparalleled sympathy for the music’s underlying rapture—something easily lost in its outward clutter. Most of all, though, it comes from the paradoxical way in which Abbado manages to reveal both this large-scale architecture and these lyrical depths without in any way playing down the moment-to-moment surface ingenuity, especially the symphony’s kaleidoscopic timbral invention. Indeed, no other performance I’ve heard is so attentive to dynamics and color, from the most vivid snarls in the first movement to the utter stillness at the beginning of the fourth movement to the radiance of the final chord. Some of the effects sound out clearly (say, the haunting oboe and English horn glissandi in response to the
marking in the fourth movement); some are extremely subtle (without visual cues, you might not notice the effect of muting the brass with loose cloths starting just before figure 26 in the finale); but there’s not a moment, from beginning to end, where Abbado is not fully attentive to the specifics of the sound quality called for by the score.
Much of the credit for the quality of the performance, though, has to go to the orchestra. Conventional wisdom has it that the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, picked by Abbado from the best of Europe’s orchestral, chamber-music, and solo-instrumental talent, plays with unparalleled conviction—and for once, conventional wisdom has it right. Of course, with performers like Sabine Meyer as first clarinet and Jacques Zoon as principal flute, you expect a certain amount of class in the solo passages. But what’s striking as you watch this video (extremely vivid in Blu-ray) is how everyone, back to the far reaches of the string section, digs in with an enthusiasm and commitment you associate with chamber music. The far reaches of the string section, by the way, are very far back; this is an ensemble with a hefty string section and (consequently) with tremendous tonal richness, which pays off especially well in the finale.
As Abbot said, “camerawork is efficient and sharp”—and generally patient as well; and the 5.1 PCM sound is spectacular. A life-affirming release.
FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
*** This Blu-ray Disc is only playable on Blu-ray Disc players and not compatible with standard DVD or HD DVD players. ***
Picture format: 1080i Full HD
Sound format: PCM 2.0 and 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Running time: 102 mins
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 3 in D minor by Gustav Mahler
Anna Larsson (Mezzo Soprano)
Lucerne Festival Orchestra,
Arnold Schoenberg Choir
Written: 1893-1896; Hamburg, Germany
Date of Recording: August 19, 2007
Venue: Lucerne Culture and Convention Center
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