Abbado: A Unique Musical Personality
perspective from live performances, DVDs and CDs
Lucerne Summer Festival is one of the major venues for music
lovers, and with its acoustically perfect concert hall on the
shores of a lake, there could hardly be a more idyllic setting.
This year’s festival featured performances by the Berlin, Vienna,
Hamburg, Munich and Israel Philharmonic Orchestras as well
as the Symphony Orchestras of Pittsburgh, Chicago, City of
Birmingham, The Concert-gebouw, the Academy of St. Martin in
the Fields and several others.
the first Festival in 1938, Arturo Toscanini founded a Lucerne
Festival Orchestra, which was disbanded only a few years ago.
Now 65 years later, Claudio Abbado has resurrected the Festival
Orchestra. His unique ensemble was made up of members of the
Mahler Chamber Orchestra (established by Abbado himself in
the mid 90’s), members of other great international symphony
orchestras including first flautist, Emmanual Pahud of the
Berlin Philharmonic, the Sabine Meyer Wind Ensemble, the Hagen
quartet as well as several soloists including Kolya Blacher,
violinist, cellist Natalia Gutman and the remarkable Capucon
brothers, violinist Renaud and cellist Gautier. All these artists
were hand picked by Abbado, who has worked closely with them
in the past and counts them as his personal friends.
music making was remarkable. In the course of eight days, Abbado
successfully welded his colleagues into a brilliant ensemble.
To the casual listener, it was as though they had been playing
together for decades. The opening concert featured the incomparable
Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel as Wotan in the closing scene from
Wagner’s Walkure. The remainder of the program comprised Debussy’s
suite La Mer and his Martyrdom of St. Sebastian. In these flawless
performances, Abbado and his orchestra proved that they were
equally adept at both the German and French repertoire.
the second concert, Abbado showed his mettle with music of
the baroque and gave inspiring and unforgettable performances
of Bach’s six Brandenburg concertos. Everyone knows and recognizes
these works but it takes a really great ensemble to play them
well. Abbado succeeded beyond expectation with the outstanding
instrumentalists at his disposal, especially violinist, Rainer
real piece de resistance was a performance of Mahler’s Resurrection
Symphony, in which the orchestra was joined by the Spanish
Orfeon Donostiarra Choir and two outstanding soloists, Russian
soprano Eteri Gvazava and Swedish mezzo Anna Larsson. At the
two rehearsals of this work I attended, the unique rapport
between conductor and orchestra was readily apparent, indeed
almost palpable. At the conclusion of the dress rehearsal there
were tears in the eyes of some of the musicians.
to the triumph was the superb acoustics of the Lucerne Concert
Hall. Even the softest diminuendos as well as the offstage
brass sections could be clearly heard. The orchestra playing
was awesome. One could not want more from an ensemble. Abbado
projected the flow and structure of the symphony and kept the
music moving slowly, slyly and inexorably to its dramatic climax.
mezzo-soprano Ana Larson told me after the concert, she felt
privileged to be part of this unforgettable musical experience.
This deeply moving and arresting performance of the Mahler
second symphony will remain indelibly imprinted in the minds
of orchestra and audience alike. For me, this will forever
remain the standard by which future performances will be judged.
recording company Deutsche Grammophon (DGG) has maintained
a unique and fruitful relationship with Claudio Abbado for
over 36 years. They have issued hundreds of his recordings,
a feat probably unprecedented in the music industry. Coinciding
with the current festival they released a live performance
of orchestral highlights from Wagner’s Tannhauser, Parsifal
and Tristan with the Berlin Philharmonic. The Swedish Radio
Chorus supply accompaniment in the Parsifal excerpts. As is
to be expected, the orchestra playing is sumptuous; the beautifully
burnished sound of this impeccable ensemble giving us delicately
modulated balances from the sweeping strings to the meticulous
brass, woodwinds and percussion. This CD is a handsome addition
to any collection and is highly recommended.
Musik, distributed by Naxos, have recently released two DVD
disks featuring Claudio Abbado. One, from a 1985 film by Norbert
Beilharz, documents the rehearsal of Verdi’s Requiem with soloists
Samuel Ramey (bass), Peter Dvorsky and Chris Merritt (tenors),
Lucia Valentini Terrani (mezzo) and Monserrat Caballe and Cecilia
Gasdia (sopranos). The orchestra and choir is that of La Scala.
absorbing DVD traces the evolution of the Requiem as Abbado
rehearses the soloists initially with piano accompaniment and
eventually with full orchestra. There are scenes where Abbado
coaxes and eventually convinces the reluctant Valentini Terrani
to make changes in her vocal approach. Especially impressive
is how the camera switches back and forth from piano to full
orchestra whilst maintaining the sweep and flow of the music.
gets another perspective of this fascinating musician with
another Arthaus Musik DVD, “Claudio Abbado, a portrait by Paul
Smaczny.” Here he is rehearsing and performing with the Berlin
Philharmonic, Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Gustav Mahler
Youth Orchestra in 1995. These DVDs reveal a fascinating insight
into his working methods. The immense respect of the orchestras
for him is readily evident. Different points of interpretation
are discussed and he is not averse to suggestions from the
orchestra. It is a democratic process but with one final arbitrator.#
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