Notes and Editorial Reviews
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Symphony No. 5
Claudio Abbado, cond; Lucerne Fest O
ACCENTUS ACC 10243 (Blu-ray: 80:33) Live: Lucerne 8/19–20/2011
Claudio Abbado formed the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in 2003 after his return to musical life following successful treatment for stomach cancer. His appearances each summer with this group, built upon the core of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra plus first-chair players from many
top ensembles, are highly anticipated events. So, when Lucerne videos are released during the year following a festival, it’s like returning to a favorite summer vacation town. What’s the same? What’s changed? As the cameras scan the orchestra, we see that the older female cellist (Natalia Gutman) is missing, but many other familiar faces are back, including violist Wolfram Christ, flutist Jacques Zoon, and the eccentric-appearing principal trumpet (Reinhold Friedrich, who, for some reason, is permitted to wear an extravagant velvet jacket and as a result looks like a cross between Ben Franklin and a circa 1910 patent medicine salesman). Plus, as always, there is a healthy number of young musicians who must be marveling at their good fortune to be participating in such an extraordinary endeavor. Because of the degree of continuity from year to year, a strong sense of artistic purpose and, of course, the man on the podium, the orchestra consistently performs at a level equal to the very best permanent ensembles on earth, even though they are together only relatively briefly each summer.
Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 is a work that can be condescended to. If a conductor begins with the premise that the Fifth is a piece that—however powerful and popular—is constructed from simplistic elements and lacking refinement, well … you’ll get a performance that’s simplistic and unrefined. Abbado finds layers and layers of nuance and meaning in the symphony. (Benjamin Zander is another conductor who shows the work a similar respect.) Any aura of ritual or of a grinding symphonic machine is banished and something much more organic is in evidence; it’s less a sonic cathedral (to use the standard Bruckner cliché) and more of a Beethovenian or Mahlerian evocation of the natural world. The chorales—strings in the second movement or the “11 apostles” in the Finale—are thankfully shorn of any Hollywood religiosity and just seem to blossom inevitably from musical seeds planted much earlier on. Abbado leads the Scherzo with exceptional lift and lightness, but still allows the obsessive quality to come through without nearly as much hard-headedness—the “country bumpkin” cliché—as is often the case. And then there are the felicities provided by all those world-class instrumentalists. For just one example, listen to the seamless manner with which phrases are passed from horn to oboe to flute at the very end of the second movement.
The sound is glorious in stereo and, especially, with multichannel—richly sonorous, dynamic, detailed, and dimensional. I’ve never witnessed a large audience listen so quietly before; everyone present in the Concert Hall of KKL Luzern for the two performances generating this video last August
I’m sure, that they were witnessing something special. They seem afraid to breathe, much less cough or fidget in their seats. As has become the custom, flowers rain down on the performers after the concert’s conclusion. The audience rises to its feet, something that doesn’t happen all that often in Europe (as opposed to the U.S., where every performance, however routine, typically gets a standing ovation). Abbado will be 80 next year and he looks well. Here’s hoping there are many more of these Blu-ray treasures to come.
FANFARE: Andrew Quint
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