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Joseph K. So
La Scena Musicale, October 2010

One of the most celebrated of living conductors, seventy- seven-year old Claudio Abbado has served as music director of La Scala and Wiener Staatsoper, as well as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony and London Symphony. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2000 and stopped conducting for some time. He has since returned to the stage, albeit with a reduced schedule, preferring to focus his energies chiefly on the Lucerne Festival. Always a sensitive and thoughtful musician, Abbado’s brush with mortality has brought to his music making, particularly his Mahler, a newfound spiritual depth and strength that are inspirational. All four DVDs in this box set mark his work after his near-fatal illness. Three discs feature live performances of the highest quality. The Mahler Second with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra from August 2003 has a luminosity that is rare. Contralto Anna Larson’s “Urlicht”, while not erasing memories of the great Kathleen Ferrier and Maureen Forrester, is lovely, while Georgian soprano Eteri Gvazava, who seems to have completely disappeared from the scene, contributes an ethereal quality to her brief moments with the stunning chorus. Also remarkable are the Bruckner and Beethoven discs for the uncommon lyricism of the orchestral playing, not to mention the elegance of the great Alfred Brendel in Beethoven No. 3. But my favourite is the fourth disc, Hearing the Silence, a fascinating 2004 documentary on the maestro. By nature a private and reserved person, Abbado rarely gives interviews and his answers to personal questions aren’t very revealing—I think he prefers to let his music making speaks for itself. But there are plenty of comments from colleagues interviewed for the documentary that gives us a glimpse into Abbado the man. Some of the live footage shows a sick and gaunt Abbado summoning his inner strength to serve the music, images that bring tears to one’s eyes. Through good times and bad, there is always a sense of the joy in his music making. If you care at all about Abbado, this is absolutely essential viewing. It is great to have these four releases in a box set at a good price. Unless you already have the individual discs, I would say this release is an indispensable purchase.

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6:36:39 AM, 10 October 2015
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