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Roger Hecht
American Record Guide, July 2011

…all played by great orchestras: from Bruckner’s Ninth, Strauss’s Elektra, the Brahms Requiem, etc…the video is enjoyable enough…

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Dave Billinge
MusicWeb International, May 2011

The documentary is narrated mostly by the actor Bruno Ganz who knows the conductor well. He serves as an observer and considered commentator on a complicated man. As a non-musician Ganz provides the viewpoint that we, the viewers, need to grasp the Abbado phenomenon. Fascinating facts emerge, such as how Abbado and his student friend Zubin Mehta joined the Vienna Musikverein chorus as a means of getting in to watch normally closed rehearsals by some of the great conductors of the previous generation: Bruno Walter, Herbert von Karajan, Josef Krips and Herman Scherchen. Abbado himself talks of the art of conducting without really clearing away any of the mystique surrounding it. Daniel Harding talks about the working musician he knows as do members of the various great orchestras, Berlin, Vienna, Lucerne and the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, with which Abbado is associated. Interestingly from a British point of view, I noted no reference to his time with the LSO with whom he made some top class recordings. He does discuss his departure from Berlin, a uniquely daring decision that shook the orchestra, and his formation and subsequent work with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. The Lucerne are very much ‘his’ orchestra as was shown in the Proms 2009 and which London can experience again later in 2011.

The film is punctuated by extracts from concerts he has recorded with the above orchestras—including the Largo mentioned above—but more fascinating is the use of initially unidentified extracts from something extremely modern. It turns out to be Prometeo by Luigi Nono whose tough avante-garde music Abbado has always promoted. This alone takes one away from the Mahler and Beethoven and Dvoƙák with which he is mostly associated these days.

One emerges from these ‘sketches for a portrait’ awed by the grace and humility of the man but perhaps little wiser except for the reminder that this master of the great Germanic repertoire is in fact an Italian. He has a glorious home somewhere on the coast of Italy that will make you green with envy.

Richard Wigmore
Gramophone, April 2011

Paul Smaczny’s documentary of the man once dubbed “the silent thinker” garnered several international awards on its original release in 2004. It has its moving moments, notably when Abbado and musicians close to him talk about his recovery from cancer. There are intermittent insights from Swiss actor Bruno Ganz (for whom the famously private conductor is “the incarnation of the noble Italian, with a certain aristocratic reserve not common in Italians”), from players (notably Berlin Philharmonic viola player Wolfram Christ and oboist Albrecht Mayer), and from Abbado’s one-time protégé Daniel Harding. “I don’t speak much in rehearsal. I communicate with my eyes and hands,” says Abbado to an unseen Italian interviewer. The all too spasmodic clips of rehearsals, from the mid-1960s to 2002, bear this out. Colleagues repeatedly cite his humility, his complete lack of ego, his abhorrence of autocracy—in implied contrast to his Berlin Philharmonic predecessor, Karajan (to his musicians he is always “Claudio”, never “Maestro”). Players stress the new flexibility, openness and transparency of sound he brought to Karajan’s orchestra. His goal with his hand-picked Lucerne Festival Orchestra is chamber music writ large. “He’s unbelievably relaxed and elegant on the rostrum,” observes Harding. “And he has the most beautiful left hand I’ve ever seen, massaging and moulding the music—he feels the sound as a physical presence, something you can touch and manipulate.”

The uncanny mix of passion and precision (“zusammen”—together—is virtually all we hear him say in rehearsal), freedom and structural command, that marks his finest performances is glimpsed all too briefly in extracts from performances of, inter alia, the New World Symphony, Bruckner’s Ninth, Mahler’s Resurrection and Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra. There are evocative shots of Sardinian seascape and Alpine landscape, accompanied by readings of the mystical Romantic nature poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin, whose mingled wisdom and childlike purity, Bruno Ganz suggests, is shared by Abbado himself.

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12:49:02 PM, 5 October 2015
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