Notes and Editorial Reviews
Note: This Blu-ray Disc is only playable on Blu-ray Disc players, and not compatible with standard DVD players.
Symphony No. 1.
Piano Concerto No. 3
Claudio Abbado, cond; Yuja Wang (pn); Lucerne Fest O
EUROARTS 2057964 (Blu-ray: 93:00) Live: Lucerne 8/11–15/2009
Symphony No. 2,
Claudio Abbado, cond; Eteri Gvazava (sop); Anna Larsson (alt); Orfeón Donostiarra; Lucerne Fest O
EUROARTS 2053264 (Blu-ray: 86:00) Live: Lucerne 8/21/2003
Symphony No. 6
Claudio Abbado, cond; Lucerne Fest O
EUROARTS 2055644 (Blu-ray: 89:00) Live: Lucerne 8/10/2006
Claudio Abbado, along with Michael Haefliger, the artistic director of the annual Lucerne Festival, founded the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in 2003. The orchestra has as its core the 40 members of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the ensemble is filled out with players invited by Abbado, frequently well-known soloists or members of top orchestras. Familiar names include Wolfram Christ (for 20 years principal violist of the Berlin Philharmonic,) Jacques Zoon (once principal flutist of the Concertgebouw and Boston Symphony Orchestras), and clarinetist Sabine Meyer. The personnel changes each summer and the musicians are together for only a few weeks but, as with the Bayreuth Festival Orchestral, the level of talent and a powerful sense of purpose result in performances that achieve the refinement of more “permanent” organizations. Abbado leads the Lucerne Festival Orchestra each August for the festival’s opening concerts.
Mahler’s symphonies, of course, have been central to Abbado’s repertoire throughout his long career. He’s recorded most of them more than once, and any of those recordings would stand as evidence of his affinity for the composer’s music. With these three performances, dating from 2003 (No. 2), 2006 (No. 6), and 2009 (No. 1), we can tell that Abbado is getting exactly what he wants from his hand-picked ensemble. There’s a faint smile on his face at the end of each movement—except after the finale of No. 6, when the conductor places a hand over his heart and exhales slowly. With all three readings, a profound sense of two-way communication between the instrumentalists and the conductor is very apparent.
The first movement of Abbado’s “Titan” has the requisite sense of expectancy to the opening pages; a second movement that feels less like a heavy-footed village dance than an honest-to-goodness orchestral scherzo follows. There’s a grim deceleration toward the end of III that’s very effective, and the drama of the finale is played for all it’s worth. The “Resurrection” is the least remarkable of these performances, though hardly negligible. After an effectively paced first movement, the Andante moderato is missing a little of the
flavor of other versions, though it’s lovingly shaped and transparently articulate. “In ruhig Fließender Bewegung” flows with a beguiling liquidity. The last two movements have more than enough mystery and grandeur to satisfy the many devotees of this work.
It’s Symphony No. 6 that should be a top choice for anyone looking to expand, or begin, a Blu-ray orchestral collection. There’s a firm resolve to the opening march (if not the neurotic, possessed quality of Bernstein or Solti) and Alma’s theme soars. Abbado understands that the Sixth is Mahler’s most traditionally formulated work and there’s a powerful feel of coherent structure. Abbado plays the Andante moderato second; it provides a welcome sense of repose, relaxed but carefully shaped. The scherzo is darkly threatening. For the finale, the scale and sweep that Abbado summons up is a potent reminder of his stature among current Mahler conductors. It’s thrilling, an emotional rollercoaster, and by the end we’re as exhausted as the conductor is. The (two) hammer strokes are devastating. Wait until you see the size of the hammer that’s employed—this is
the sound Mahler had in mind.
The disc holding Symphony No. 1 begins with a scintillating performance of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with Yuja Wang as soloist. Her playing is pristine, but never cold or clinical. That Abbado conducts without a score, as he does for the symphonies, sends the message that he views the work as no mere virtuoso vehicle to simply beat time for.
Technically, the results are variable, plus there are some snafus that must be mentioned. Multichannel provides considerable atmosphere and spaciousness for No. 1 and, especially, No. 6. But with the “Resurrection” BD, the 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio option provides little in the way of increased dimensionality compared to the stereo program, and balances are less realistic here as well. Another oddity: The video format is billed as 16:9 but if your Blu-ray player is set to find the correct aspect ratio automatically, a 4:3 picture with pillars to the sides appears with Symphonies 1 and 2. This is clearly not what’s intended—the already gaunt conductor looks like a Giacometti sculpture. Changing the setting on your player to 16:9 (rather than “auto”) fixes the problem. I also must report that the “Resurrection” disc froze a couple of times in movements IV and V, necessitating ejection of the disc, starting over, and fast-forwarding to a point past where the music stopped. Kind of spoils the mood, to say the least. It might have been just my copy, but I’m disclosing the phenomenon nonetheless.
Mostly, the video presentation is outstanding. The director and film editor clearly know the score quite well and the visual content changes frequently and aptly—sometimes more than once a measure—but never jarringly. The only miscalculation is a bit of self-conscious artiness during the last movement of the “Resurrection” when the image goes blurry as off-stage brasses dominate the sonic picture.
colleague Peter J. Rabinowitz put Abbado’s first Mahler Blu-ray release, Symphony No. 3, on his 2010 Want List, and the Lucerne Fourth with Magdalena Kožená as soloist will have been released by the time you’re reading this. For the videophile Mahlerian, this could be the Blu-ray equivalent of the MTT/San Francisco SACD series. Check it out!
FANFARE: Andrew Quint
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