Notes and Editorial Reviews
Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado
Documentary "From Toscanini to Abbado"
The History of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Featuring Claudio Abbado, Ernest Ansermet, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Ferenc Fricsay, Herbert von Karajan, Yehudi Menuhin, Sabine Meyer, Victor de Sabata, Arturo Toscanini and many others
Picture Format: NTSC 16:9 anamorphic
Sound Format: PCM Stereo Dolby Digital 5.1 DTS 5.1
Region Code: 0
Subtitles: English, German, French
Booklet Notes: English German, French
Running Time: 119 mins
R E V I E W S:
The music is quite wonderful on this DVD, “Abbado in Lucerne,” but for me its principal interest is the
51-minute documentary From Toscanini to Abbado, a history of the Lucerne Festival. The impetus for the documentary seems to have been the restarting, after a 10-year hiatus, of a specific Lucerne Festival Orchestra. Collectors will know this orchestra from historic recordings by Furtwängler and others, and for 50 years (1943–1993) it played in residence at the Festival alongside the world-famous visiting orchestras who came in with their well-rehearsed programs. By 1993, the comparisons with Berlin, Vienna, Cleveland, Chicago, and others led to the disbanding of the resident ensemble.
The Festival’s current director, Michael Haefliger, is one of the most imaginative and foresighted of Europe’s music administrators (it is in his blood: he’s the son of tenor Ernst, and brother of pianist Andreas), and he determined that Lucerne must have its own resident orchestra. He planned with Claudio Abbado to create one, and in the 2003 Festival it made its debut. It is that first concert that is reproduced here for the musical content of this disc.
The documentary portion bills itself as focusing on the history of the orchestra itself, but in fact it is an extremely well-constructed history of the Lucerne Festival, one of Europe’s most important music festivals since its inception in 1938. There is some particularly fascinating footage here, such as the end of a Rudolph Kempe-led New World Symphony, the young Karajan conducting Bach from a harpsichord, and the older Karajan conducting Rossini’s William Tell Overture with facial expressions indistinguishable from what one might expect in a Bruckner slow movement. The Abbado rehearsal segments and interviews are also effective.
The Debussy performances represent some of Abbado’s best work. His careful attention to balance and color is, of course, well suited to this music—but there is also a sense of abandon and flair that is not always associated with his conducting. The result is two colorful, integrated, but spontaneous performances that are a pleasure to experience. The Lucerne Festival Orchestra does not sound here as if it is playing its first concert together—it sounds like a well-drilled, experienced ensemble that has had a long history. The documentary makes clear the particular type of musician that Abbado sought in assembling this ensemble, and he clearly succeeded. Both sopranos sing their music in Le martyre beautifully, and the chorus sings well too. The recorded sound for the orchestra is splendid—open, focused, free, and with a good sense of perspective and balance. The same is true for the soloists. The chorus, on the other hand, sounds a bit unfocussed and lacking in clarity, particularly at soft dynamics.
The performances are directed for video by Michael Beyer, and his work is fairly conventional in its approach. The problem with orchestral concerts for video producers is that the orchestral concert is inherently not a visual art form, and video directors seem incapable of sitting still for more than five seconds. The constant shifting of close-ups of musicians’ faces, fingers, and instruments, alternating with Abbado, might appeal to some; for me it is distracting. Beyer’s favorite shot seems to be an “artsy” one taken through the harp strings, and by the end of La mer I was ready to scream if it cropped up one more time. I wish that directors would back off, focus on much of the orchestra for longer stretches, and trust the music more. But I do not seem destined to get that wish. The actual picture quality is remarkably crisp, the colors are vivid, and perhaps you won’t find the direction as distracting as I did. Certainly, the hall itself, the relatively new concert hall of the Lucerne Culture and Conference Centre, is one of the finest halls of the past 50 years, and it looks handsome here.
Despite my reservations about the video direction, the music-making is so good and the documentary so satisfying that I can recommend this with enthusiasm.
Henry Fogel, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
La mer by Claude Debussy
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1903-1905; France
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