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Debussy, Mahler / Abbado, Lucerne Festival Orchestra

Release Date: 07/19/2004 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 4775082   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Claude DebussyGustav Mahler
Performer:  Eteri GvazavaAnna Larsson
Conductor:  Claudio Abbado
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lucerne Festival OrchestraOrféon Donostiarra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 46 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

You have to listen to this disc. It justifies the whole invention of recording sound. Claudio Abbado -- a man of 70 who had just recovered from a life-threatening illness -- leads the Lucerne Festival Orchestra -- an orchestra made of up some of the best musicians in Europe -- in two of the greatest orchestral works of the fin de siècle -- Debussy's exciting, exhilarating, and ecstatic La Mer and Mahler's massive, monumental, and monomaniacal Resurrection Symphony -- in the cleanest, clearest, recordings ever made. Claudio Abbado had made magnificent recordings of both La Mer and the Resurrection before, but his performances here are more than magnificent: they are truly and profoundly transcendent. The Lucerne Festival Orchestra has Read more never recorded anything before because it is an ad hoc band including the leader of the Berlin Philharmonic, all the members of Sabine Meyer's Wind Ensemble, all the members but one of the Hagen Quartett, and all the members of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. But in these performances, the musicians play as if they were the world's greatest orchestra with both complete and perfect ensemble and complete and total individuality. Recorded in the crystalline acoustics of the Kultur- und Kongresszentrum on the shores of beautiful Lake Lucerne, Abbado and the Orchestra's performances are ideally reproduced in sound of staggering impact and stunning immediacy. After the last note of the Resurrection has faded into eternity, it is as if you are sitting in the tenth row center with an especially enthusiastic overweight Austrian standing next to you and applauding with delirious ecstasy. One of the greatest recordings ever made in the history of sound recording.

-- James Leonard, AllMusic.com

"It’s hard to imagine two less complementary orchestral works on the same program—Debussy, I’m sure, would have been appalled (luckily, the recordings were made at different concerts). Be that as it may, both scores are certainly showpieces for conductor and orchestra. In addition, the CD serves as an advertisement for the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, which is a constantly evolving, summer holiday ensemble comprising players (such as Sabine Meyer and Emmanuel Pahud) from major European orchestras, and whose core is the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, with whom Abbado is also associated.

The sound of the Debussy is quite vivid—immediate and natural, if a bit closely recorded, but quite exciting. Abbado’s “De l’aube” is breezy but precise, taken at a moderate tempo that allows for maximum clarity—if not quite on the scale of Celibidache in Stuttgart (DG); Abbado favors the tang of the seaside over the gauzy shroud of more self-consciously “Impressionist” performances—his final crescendos evoke real wave action rather than splashy orchestral sound for its own sake. The “Jeux” is invested with wit and playfulness—and rhythmic energy—as well as the precision that typified the first piece. In the “Dialogue,” it is the energy (almost menacing in the opening) as well as the precision and excellence of the playing that is foremost. This is idiomatic Debussy that allows one to focus on the brilliance of the orchestration: this paean to the sea should appeal even to the land-locked listener.

The Mahler symphony sounds terrific, too—the bass is deep and well defined, while there is a clarity and depth to the soundstage that greatly enhances Abbado’s dramatic conception of the piece. The engineers have provided another vivid experience, which places the listener very close to the action without sounding in the least bit cramped or artificial.

The performance will offer few surprises to admirers of Abbado’s previous Mahler recordings. As before, the lyrical and melodic are given high priority, while Mahler’s dramatic contrast is fully in evidence. In the first movement, Michael Tilson Thomas, in his own recent recording, brings more depth of feeling to the peaceful second theme in the development, and thereby provides even more contrast to the tense first theme material of the exposition. Abbado’s Andante movement proceeds at a free-flowing tempo that certainly evokes the hurly-burly of life but sacrifices some of the Viennese warmth that others (Bernstein, Tennstedt, Thomas) have found here; he does find the gentle humor in the pizzicato section. Where Tilson Thomas contrasted an expansive Andante with a brisk Scherzo, Abbado reverses this, taking the third movement at a moderate tempo that highlights its clumsiness; MTT was able to get more contrast out of the dreamy E-Major interlude. Abbado’s “outcry” section is suitably, convincingly dramatic.

Anna Larsson sings a very sensitively phrased “Urlicht,” equal parts nobility and melancholy. The finale arrives with lightning speed, yet isn’t quite the startling explosion I would have expected—the sound has just a bit less impact here. The episodes that follow comprise a dramatically coherent whole; the off-stage instruments are effectively distanced, especially the “Great Call,” wherein the entire dramatic scenario is marvelously evocative. After the entrance of the chorus, the focus of the recording grows just a little gauzy, with less sharpness and clarity in the orchestra; at the same time, possibly to enhance the more importunate nature of the drama at this point, the tension slackens. But the momentum soon returns, and the “Aufersteh’n” comes to a rousing close. The audience is heard to give its clamorous approval."

Christopher Abbot, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

La mer by Claude Debussy
Conductor:  Claudio Abbado
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903-1905; France 
Date of Recording: 2003 
Venue:  Live  Lucerne Festival, Switzerland 
Length: 24 Minutes 4 Secs. 
Symphony no 2 in C minor "Resurrection" by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Eteri Gvazava (Soprano), Anna Larsson (Alto)
Conductor:  Claudio Abbado
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orféon Donostiarra,  Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888/1896; Germany 
Date of Recording: 2003 
Venue:  Live  Lucerne Festival, Switzerland 
Length: 81 Minutes 14 Secs. 
Language: German 

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