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Mahler: Symphony No 4, Ruckert Lieder / Kozena, Abbado, Lucerne Festival Orchestra

Release Date: 11/16/2010 
Label:  Euroarts   Catalog #: 2057984  
Composer:  Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená
Conductor:  Claudio Abbado
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Blu-ray Video:  $25.49
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MAHLER Symphony No. 4. Rückert-Lieder Claudio Abbado, cond; Lucerne Fest O; Magdalena Kožená (mez) EUROARTS 2057984 (Blu-ray); 2057988 (DVD: 88:00) Live: Lucerne 8/21–22/2009

Claudio Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra certainly do not disappoint as they reach the halfway point in what will hopefully be a complete video traversal of the Mahler symphonies. The star of the show, however, is Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená. She and Abbado open the Read more program with the Rückert-Lieder, the ensemble’s string section reduced to chamber-orchestra proportions. The singer communicates a powerful connection to the texts; there are facial expressions and body gestures you’d expect in a stage production but they never seem excessive. Her voice is beautifully controlled, expansive, and expressive: “Um Mitternacht” is every bit the spiritual journey Thomas Hampson made it in his recent version with Michael Tilson Thomas, and is deeply moving. As much for Abbado’s transcendent orchestral shaping as for Kožená’s luminous singing, “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” is deeply moving—they convey a profound sense of inner peace.

The opening movement of Symphony No. 4 emphasizes an often underplayed anxious quality: Trouble may be waiting just around the corner, even when the sun is shining. For movement 2, we see the concertmaster exchange his usual instrument for one with an alternate tuning, as Mahler directs—the sound with his solos is tense and earthy. The emotional contour of “Ruhevoll” underscores Abbado’s affinity for this composer. He begins simply, calmly, without any sense of worry, and then leads us in and out of dark places. Kožená’s vocalism is again lovely in the finale, manifesting a wide-eyed amazement as she details the specifics of life in heaven.

The cinematography, employing a plethora of camera angles, has been carefully thought out. It’s obvious that the musicians find Abbado easy to follow. His motions are clear and economical, rather than a display of self-aggrandizing conductorial theatricality. It’s remarkable how many of the instrumentalists are smiling as they play and not the least bit surprising that two female violinists embrace after the conclusion of the symphony; their pleasure with having participated in this musical event is palpable. Sonically, the spatial difference between stereo and the 5.1 multichannel is less pronounced than usual—and that’s meant as praise for the two-channel option. The program is available on DVD as well as Blu-ray, though why you’d chose the former in this day and age is beyond me, so superior is the high-definition image with the newer format.

FANFARE: Andrew Quint
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 4 in G major by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Claudio Abbado
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892-1900; Vienna, Austria 
Rückert Lieder (5) by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Claudio Abbado
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901-1902; Vienna, Austria 

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