Wonderful Mahler, Wonderful Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Brav
DAVID A. FLETCHER | Richmond, Va United States | 07/07/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have to say there was one central thought running through my head as my first hearing/viewing of this terrific new installment of the Abbado/Lucerne/Mahler cycle poured out of my speakers and screen: what a truly fine orchestra this is! I mean...truly! They started out terrific from the moment of maestro Abbado's reconstitution of the organization some years back. They were--and are--hand-picked by Abbado, from both the Berlin Philharmonic and assorted world-renowned chamber groups and instrumentalists. Every year, with every performance, the group has consistently refined and enhanced its signature "sound," which has--to Abbado's credit--survived various and sundry recording balances. To describe it to someone coming to this series for the first time, the effect is something like a magical blend of those elements of the BPO and, say, the LSO, that find themselves complimentary. Let's call it BPO "heft," and LSO "finesse," to complete the point. The strings alone have the old Berlin suavity of the Karajan era, but with a much more careful delineation of texture and attack. Brass--inlcuding those all-important solo moments from trumpet to tuba--are wonderfully present yet firmly integrated into the mix. Wind color is beautifully caught, with consistently spot-on intonation. The ensemble reacts with chamber orchestra quickness to every nuance of Abbado's gestures, grimaces, or smiles.
So, what of Mahler? To be fair, I personally might have wanted just a bit more menace a la Bernstein (oh, I can hear the cat-calls now...but no matter), but the beauty of the playing clearly carries the day. The pacing of the opening tread is near ideal, neither rushed nor ponderous. The alpine cowbells make their presence known subtly but clearly, and the accompanying breeze of string chimera has the requisite magic to complete the effect. And speaking of strings, those wonderful Lucerne strings, the second movement Andante is (and you hate to say this when discussing Mahler) to die for. That yearning, burnished tone that is so echt-Mahler is fully realized. The Scherzo--played as you've guessed in third position, which bothers some (but not me)--is terrifically characterized in the classic scherzo sense. It is a macabre, sometimes sinister, sardonically playful joke of a movement, taunting our Tragic Hero with shallow brass guffaws. It's the "Laendler of Death." Skeletal xylophone accents, insistent tympany, all propelled by string rhythms that carry more than a hint of Old Scratch.
If the opening seems to hang fire just a tad, the Finale. Allegro. is the intended beneficiary. Abbado clearly aims the narrative arc of Mahler's creation to the hope-against-hope yearning of the symphony's concluding half hour. The panoply of emotion is written all over Abbado's face, with each smiling, soaring cycle of the violins' big tune, only to be crushed each time by the earth-shattering hammer blow (theatrically shot and stunningly recorded) and its attendant brass pronouncement. Abbado is clearly both overcome and drained by the experience, and has to visibly collect himself for several moments after the final notes have sounded and his baton has dropped. Mahler's "Tragic" symphony is a journey to that land where the end is not a happy one, we know that it won't be, and yet we rail against it each step of the way. To this end, Mahler has found a champion in maestro Abbado, whose personal tragedy and triumph clearly indicate just how close to home the weight of this music strikes.
Abbado himself looks good, his life-threatening illness now held at bay. The orchestra visibly adores its music director, and the affair is mutual. The Lucerne Festival audience cleary realizes just how special each Abbado/LFO occasion is, and the warmth of their response is almost akin to what you experience with a Vienna Philharmonic New Year's concert. We can only hope that health and good fortune continue to come the way of Abbado and the Lucerne Festival, and that his reputation as one of Mahler's greatest living champions is embellished with future performances and releases in this landmark cycle.
David Fletcher Richmond, VA"
An affirming, powerful performance!
Denis | Portland, OR | 07/03/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is an awesome performance of what is probably the greatest tragic symphony in the history of music, alongside the Tchaikovsky Pathetique. Abbado's own brush with death a few short years ago seems to have brought him to the heart of this work, where he finds not despair and hopelessness but affirmation and beauty in spite of life's cruel challenges. There is an usual lyricism and tenderness in Abbado's approach, and the orchestra players are with him all the way to the final, crushing closing chord of the symphony. Then ... silence ... a long silence offering only a shudder as if the wind had been knocked out of everyone. It's over.
A few details about this performance: The exposition repeat is taken in the first movement which moves along an a moderate tempo. The slow movement, at a fairly quick andante, is taken second, not third as it is usually done. (I prefer the order Abbado takes here, and it makes perfect sense in supporting his overall conception of the work.) The scherzo, placed third, is marvelously played, full of nuance and color. The huge, sprawling canvas of the last movement unfolds, not as a march toward death, but as a search for life. Although there are only two hammerblows, they are powerfully executed ... and I do mean "executed." And the effect is perfect to send a tremor through one's being.
At the end, Abbado stands silently before the orchestra, collecting himself as if coming slowly out of a frightening descent into the abyss. And he has taken us with him on the journey.
If you love the Mahler Sixth, you owe it to yourself to get this and hear and see it for yourself. You will not be disappointed. "
Stunning Mahler from Abbado and the LFO
Michael | London | 07/03/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The recent music making of Claudio Abbado, that of roughly the last seven or eight years, has been nothing short of legendary, and while some may attribute this to his near-death bout with stomach cancer, none will deny the performances of astonishying depth and profundity, particularly in Mahler, that have marked his appearances with the Berlin Philharmonic and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, the magnificent ensemble he founded four years ago. Featuring many of the finest soloists and chamber musicians in the world, Abbado's Lucerne performances have been glorious, and this latest addition is perhaps the most searing, probing, and desperate Mahler performance of the bunch, which includes a stirring Resurrection and exhilarating 5th symphony. What is even more astounding is the stunning cohesion and uniformity of this ensemble, considering that the musicians meet for a mere week of rehearsal; still further, these musicians have never played with one another, and many have not even played this piece! The profundity therein may be attributed to complete dedication and the chamber-music attitude which Abbado espouses; given the intensity with which they listen to one another, perhaps it is no surprise that entrances are immaculate, ensemble perfect. What is harder to account for, however, is the unanimity of expression, every note and phrase invested with meaning. The performance is quite similar to that of the acclaimed Abbado/BPO CD, which won Gramophone's Record of the Year. Certain moments are in fact identical, not just in tempo, but sound; how two different ensembles can sound so similar, never mind the impossible talent of each, is astonishing, and this can only be attributed to the leadership of Abbado. For those who doubt the importance of a conductor, listen to these two performances, feel the way in which an inexorable tragic construct is identically invested with incomparable fluidty and expressiveness. Abbado's approach is classicaly tragic and opposed to the thrilling manicness which marks Bernstein's legendary Vienna recording. While Bernstein's first movement is exuberant, intense, Abbado creates a darker mood, his tempo more measured, the sense of impending tragedy present. The andante is searingly beautiful, perhaps the most exquisite I've heard, slightly more singing, less intense than his equally gorgeous Berlin performance. The scherzo is less heavy than his Berlin CD, but what a scherzo it is, full of nuance, irony, and bite. I find Bernstein's scherzo comparatively over-bearing and one-dimensional. The great Lenny excels the most in his brutal and blood-and-guts finale, and those who want Euripedean furor may be adverse to the multi-dimensional tragic portrait which Abbado elucidates. Bernstein IS Mahler's hero, he becomes the screaming protagonist fighting the inexorability of fate, and if Abbado's interpretation has less struggle, it is equally powerful. Like his Berlin recording, one wishes the brass were stronger at the hammer blow moments, though the Lucerne bass trombonist is quite forceful after the second one. The hammer blows are overwhelming in both performance, the second one more impactful in this DVD. The march section of this movement is more propulsive than that of the Berlin CD. The dedication of these artists is inspiring, Abbado's conducting poignant; this DVD is highly recommended."
Dr. J. J. Kregarman | Denver, Colorado United States | 08/01/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There are several reasons to purchase this DVD, even if you, as I, have other versions of the 6th at home: the interpretation is first rate, the playing impeccable, the sound extremely good, and visually it is stunning."
"Number six is a "Tragic Symphony" but Mahler wrote it during one of the happiest periods in his life. He had married the young (20 years his junior) and beautiful Alma Maria Schindler in 1902. Their first daughter was born later that same year, a second daughter followed in 1904. Mahler, in his mid forties, was in good health. Perhaps, at times, musical work of tragic character is not directly related to the mood of the writer. Here a tragic symphony is no more identifiable with the life of the composer than the first person actor of a novel or narrator of a poem is related with its author.
The interpretation shown in this DVD is great. Claudio Abbado feels it entirely, despite his illness he has been less tragic and more poetic, pleasing, with obvious nobility of conception.