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Andrew Quint
Fanfare, September 2011

It appears that that the Seventh will be the last Mahler symphony from Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra to appear on the EuroArts label, as Symphonies 1–7 are now offered for sale as a four-Blu-ray set. Symphony No. 9, recorded during the summer of 2010, was issued on Accentus; I have no idea if Nos. 8 and 10 are to be performed, recorded, and released. If you’re a Blu-ray collector and have stayed on the sidelines to this point with the Abbado series, congratulations—pick up the four-disc box. But if you’ve been acquiring the individual symphonies as they’ve come out, don’t hesitate to add No. 7 to your shelf.

The disc derives from performances at the 2005 Lucerne Festival, and admirers of Abbado’s Mahler interpretations over the decades won’t be disappointed with his reading of the composer’s hardest-to-bring-off symphonic work. For some, the opening movement may seem insufficiently world-weary, but Abbado certainly makes good on the “risoluto” part of its tempo indication. In the two Nachtmusik movements, the orchestra’s star wind players—flutist Jacques Zoon, clarinetist Sabine Meyer, and others—get to shine in the many intimate, chamber-like passages. The central scherzo is indeed “shadowy” (Schattenhaft): ghostlike images that seem only partially formed flit by yet the conductor makes the movement a coherent musical structure. For many listeners having trouble warming to the Seventh, the finale doesn’t seem to fit. Abbado offers it unapologetically as bold, blazing sunshine that stands in marked contrast to the worried, whispered, sometimes desultory character of the preceding four movements. The audience at the Concert Hall of the Culture and Convention Centre sure get it: Flowers rain down on the orchestra after the last chord. There’s a shot of baritone Thomas Quasthoff shaking his head admiringly during the ovation.

Technically, the BD is up to EuroArts’ usual standard. The DTS-HD Master Audio multichannel program is spacious and atmospheric. It can sometimes sound “wrong” when we’re presented with a visual close-up and even some listeners set up for surround sound may opt for the stereo program. Frankly, the sound on most Blu-rays, this one included, is so good (so much better than the lower-than-CD audio resolution of standard DVDs) that, after a first audition, you may choose to listen with the picture off. Under that circumstance, the multichannel sound is especially gratifying. Those faraway cowbells in Nachtmusik I seem to come from somewhere down the street—in weiter Entferung, indeed. There’s a realistic woodiness and a sense of an object with a hollow cavity in the reproduction of massed string basses in an especially exposed passage during the second movement. The representation of guitar and mandolin in Nachtmusik II is exquisite—their parts are quite easy to appreciate without any bloating of the instrumental images.

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, July 2011

Claudio Abbado’s Lucerne Mahler cycle is not complete, yet Euroarts have already decided to reissue the DVDs on Blu-ray. The superior sound and picture quality of the newer format is a given, but I was impressed with what I heard and saw on Abbado’s DVD of the Fourth Symphony and Rückert-Liederreview.

Without exception, the handful of ballet, concert and opera Blu-rays I own are visual and sonic treats, so it’s disappointing to report that Euroarts have hit some snags with these Mahler reissues. There were sound problems with the ‘Resurrection’—now rectified—and the audio menus on the Blu-ray of the Fourth were switched. As for the recently released Blu-ray box set, the packaging indicates that Nos. 5 and 6 are in PCM stereo only; in fact, they are in DTS HD Master Surround as well.

Abbado has recorded two Mahler Sevenths on CD, first in Chicago and then in Berlin. Both are very desirable versions of this symphony. Many will prefer the maestro’s later, more authoritative account, but I have an enduring loyalty to the earlier one. It’s hard to fathom why, other than to say the Chicago recording has a warmth and affection that I don’t always hear from the Berliners. And while both orchestras are in fine fettle, the Lucerners are in another league entirely. Just sit back and savour that strange ur-tune for tenor horn at the start of the Adagio; has it ever sounded this arresting, this ear-prickingly present? In a movement that’s apt to stutter and stumble Abbado makes it sound so sure-footed, so goal-directed, and that augurs well for the rest of this reading.

Camerawork is as discreet and unfussy as I’ve come to expect from veteran director Michael Beyer; the picture is sharp and colours true. Sonically, the brass are very well caught—the trombones in particular—but timps are a tad boomy and cymbals much too shy. Indeed, the sound on this Blu-ray—in PCM stereo at least—strikes me as somewhat processed; not something I’ve noticed on the DVDs. These quibbles aside, this is shaping up to be a magnificent 7, Abbado visibly delighted at the end of a riveting, momentous Adagio.

The chatter and call of the first Nachtmusik has seldom seemed so atmospheric, the fell of night so tactile. Abbado brings out every nuance in the score, that tripping little tune beautifully articulated. There’s affection aplenty, but not at the expense of detail and momentum; as for the deep brass and sawing basses, they are tellingly conveyed, that series of minor epiphanies culminating in a final gong shimmer that will surely induce a sympathetic shiver or two. That said, the central Scherzo is even weirder, every tic and convulsion highlighted as never before. The sheer poise and precision of individual sections and players is just remarkable—what a peerless band this is.

If, like me, you’re easily distracted in the second Nachtmusik this reading will come as a pleasant surprise. It’s another of those left-field Mahler movements that can so easily be misjudged; not here, Abbado alive to every small shift of hue and texture, underlining just how astonishing this music really is. The guitar and mandolin are easily heard and the movement passes all too soon, buoyed by alert playing and sensible speeds. Only in the orchestral swells does the sound lose focus; otherwise it’s rich and sonorous, the horns especially splendid.

Pitched straight into the Rondo-Finale we’re given a taut, muscular view of what often seems a rhetorical, undecided movement. In between the attack of timps and bay of brass the dance-like episodes are given a wonderful lilt. And like Burns’ Tam o’ Shanter and his trusty steed—pursued by witches and warlocks—the music gallops across the drawbridge to triumph and safety. It’s a bracing ride, greeted by a well-deserved roar of approval.

This is a mighty, long-shadowed Mahler Seventh; Abbado confronts all its quirks and quiddities and persuades us this is how the symphony should go. If only the sonics were up to the standards of more recent Blu-rays this would be even more desirable. Still, if I were to award stars for sound and performance—as one of our rivals is wont to do—I’d happily give it 8/10.

Lawrence Devoe, May 2011

The Performance

Claudio Abbado contributes another chapter to this Mahler cycle with his hand-picked ensemble, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. The performance, dating from August 2005, brings a less frequently heard late Mahler work, the Symphony No. 7 in E Minor, the so called “Song of the Night,” to the intimate setting of this Swiss summer venue. The seventh symphony, written between 1904 and 1905, premiered in Prague in 1908. It has five movements:(1) Langsam – Allegro risoluto, ma non troppo; (2) Nachtmusik (I): Allegro moderato. Molto moderato (Andante); (3) Scherzo: Schattenhaft. Fließend aber nicht zu schnell; (4) Nachtmusik (II): Andante amoroso; (5) Rondo-Finale. There are substantial mood shifts between the almost-martial tempi of the first movement and the two dreamy Nachtmusik (Night Music) movements which feature cowbells, bird sounds, and mandolin and guitar solos. The final movement seems out of place, almost an after-thought, and contains take-offs on Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, Lehar’s Merry Widow, the Lutheran Hymn,”A Mighty fortress is our God,” and quotes from Mahler’s own Symphony No. 5. As with the previous entries in this Mahler series, music-making is at the highest level, evoked by a dean of current conductors, with highly complimentary videography and sound recording.

Video Quality

The Festival Hall is gorgeous and well portrayed by veteran director, Michael Beyer’s camera work. Spotlights on individual instruments are well done and images are crisp without being surreal. Maestro Abbado has animated face and hand movements, which are captured by occasional but not excessive close-up shots. Beyer tends to favor frequent cut-aways, certainly not a concert hall experience, but these add to the interest in what would be otherwise a very static video.

Audio Quality

Sonically, the dts-HD Master Audio presentation is appropriately warm and well balanced. Orchestral details are well delineated without being clinical. The low end of the sound spectrum is clean and clear. The large-scale Finale is a block buster and Abbado, aided by the sound engineers, puts it right in your lap. As expected, the perspective is an orchestra row seat with an effective proscenium effect and minimal ambience in the surround channels.

Supplemental Materials

Euroarts usually only provides trailers for their other featured performances and this disc was no exception. As this is one of Mahler’s lesser known works, it would have been great to get some more insights than those provided by the program booklet, but no dice.

The Definitive Word


It is an unmitigated pleasure to hear a work that I have loved for nearly 50 years and well before Gustav Mahler became a 20th century orchestral darling. Of course, the sonic quality of the first Mahler 7th that I owned was nowhere near the level of this disc. It was a revelation to hear so much detail that this complex work contains. This is due, in no small measure, to Maestro Abbado’s care in eliciting an evocative yet well-disciplined performance from his players. To my knowledge, this is an initial BD release and it makes a very strong case for this unjustly neglected masterpiece. For those who want a sharp contrast in styles, there is a standard DVD, featuring Leonard Bernstein and the Wiener Philharmoniker. Bernstein tends to go after dramatic effects, a tendency that tends not to wear as well over repeated hearings. Without doubt both video and audio qualities are far better with this Abbado BD. Despite the absence of extras, this is a brilliant performance that is equally well recorded. The bravos and standing ovation at the end echo my sentiments exactly!

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1:15:27 PM, 4 September 2015
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