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Bruce Surtees
The WholeNote, March 2012

Luisi can be seen and heard on many CDs and DVDs, one example of which is a live performance of Mahler’s First Symphony that is outstanding in every way. From the first few bars of the first movement Luisi emerges as a true Mahlerian. His tempos and pacing are flawless as are the dynamics. It’s a gift to know what to do between the notes and, at least here, Luisi gets it. When he lets the orchestra out in the coda of the fourth movement the effect is spectacular in the grand manner. Earlier, the concert opens with a performance of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No.1 with pianist Margarita Hohenrieder. Her brilliant performance is engaging, witty and animated, proving that one can play Beethoven and smile at the same time. She and Luisi are on exactly the same page. © 2012 The WholeNote Read complete review

Christopher Abbot
Fanfare, November 2009

What at first struck me as an unusual pairing of works, on closer inspection makes sense: both compositions originate from their respective composers’ mid-twenties and both find their creators struggling toward their own voice while still somewhat in thrall to earlier models. Beethoven had yet to shake off the influence of Haydn completely, and Liszt and Bruckner still loomed large over the young Mahler.

In the performance of the Beethoven Concerto, the interpretation stresses Classical restraint over Romantic excess: tempos are reasonably moderate and the dynamics avoid extremes; in short, it is a performance that takes few risks but thereby never seems to be merely a showpiece for the artists’ talents. Höhenrieder’s is a refreshingly undemonstrative keyboard style, and Luisi’s purposeful podium demeanor is the perfect complement. In the bonus film portrait of the pianist, she explains that this was her first encounter with the conductor, but that they quickly established a comfortable working relationship; this is borne out by the seamlessness of their collaboration.

Höhenrieder’s performance is a model of dexterity and clarity of execution that makes the music look and sound effortless. There is never a sense of either undue restraint or of unwarranted showiness in her phrasing or passagework, just a superb technique in service to Beethoven. She is called back to play an encore and chooses the final bravura movement of a suite for piano (1948) by Harald Genzmer, a personal friend and mentor who passed away, aged 98, in 2007.

I’ve been critical of Luisi’s Mahler series on Querstand, and nothing I hear in this performance compels me to reassess that judgment. Much of the mystery and primal atmosphere is missing from the opening movement of the First, while the principal theme is lacking in the sense of slowly awakened joy produced by Haitink or Zander; the lack of rubato simply makes the theme sound genial instead of compelling. There are admirable touches: the clarity of inner voices is notable, and the orchestra sounds fine. Luisi looks completely engaged and in full Bernstein mode, but for all of his efforts the result is surprisingly underwhelming. The second movement opens at a slightly pompous-sounding tempo that becomes more spirited as Luisi interpolates an accelerando. The Trio is very expansive by way of contrast. The lugubrious opening of the funeral march is played by several basses, an interesting (though not unique) variant. The band music is absurdly comic in its sudden, cheerful eruptions, the result of an unfortunate tempo choice. The fourth movement provides a good opening storm—this time the sound and fury actually have an impact. The movement as a whole is a successful reading of Mahler’s highly contrasted heroic finale.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, July 2009

Beethoven’s second concerto in B Flat, op. 9 was actually composed before the C major one, which is here given what I would say an ideal performance. This pianist plays with tuneful verve and virtuosity, seconded by an attentive and very sensitive conductor. As an encore, she displays her versatility by tossing off the Presto from Harald Genzmer’s Suite in C.

Until now, I was not acquainted with conductor Fabio Luisi’s work, but will never forget this experience: Mahler’s first had always been my favourite among his symphonies. In this performance, Luisi creates a monumentally powerful structure that is nothing short of miracle. Hat’s off and a deep bow, Maestro!

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2:14:49 PM, 27 May 2015
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