Saturday, July 19, 2014

Claudia Abbado, Opening Concert at the 2013 Lucerne Festival (Brahms, Schoenberg, Beethoven)

Brahms, Tragic Overture
Schoenberg, Interlude and Song of the Wood-Dove from Gurreleider
Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 Eroica

Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Mihoko Fujimura, Mezzo-Soprano
Lucerne Festival Orchestra, conducted by Claudio Abbado
Recorded on 16/17 August 2013

Accentus Blu-Ray 10282
(also available on DVD)

This disc represents the last audiovisual recording of Claudio Abbado conducting – although not the last recording tout court, as a CD of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 recorded later in the 2013 festival will soon be released. Abbado died  on 20th January, 2014 and it is tempting to see this as a valedictory performance – particularly given the bleak programming, with Brahms’s Tragic Overture, an extract from Gurreleider that is all about death and loss, and Eroica symphony with Beethoven’s finest funeral march.

That would be completely wrong, however. This opening concert is really a celebration. It marks 10 years of wonderful music-making by Abbado and his hand-picked selection of musicians. The Lucerne festival has given us some magnificent recordings, particularly of Mahler and Bruckner, two composers with whom Abbado has a particular affinity. And this concert does not disappoint.

Both the Tragic Overture and the orchestral interlude from Gurreleider showcase the LFO’s extremely fine string section, at its best in the late Romantic repertoire. In the ‘Song of the Wood-Dove’ (which is more of a lament than a song) Abbado achieves a skillful and effective balance between the huge orchestra and the dark tone of Mihoko Fujimura’s mezzo-soprano.  But the real highlight of  the performance, unsurprisingly, is the Eroica symphony.

According to the (rather breathless) liner notes, Abbado makes the Funeral March the emotional centerpiece of the symphony. I have to disagree. The Funeral March, played with minimal vibrato, is certainly very powerful, but to describe it as the centerpiece fails to do justice to Abbado’s architectural conception and to the forward momentum that he establishes from the opening bars.  This performance reveals a deeply organic vision of the symphony and none of the movements can be taken on its own terms. The pacing of the scherzo, for example, builds to a perfectly judged transition into the finale.

The Lucerne Festival was obviously very special. This disc is a very worthy celebration of 10 great years that yielded most of the high points of Abbado’s conducting career.

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