Lynn René Bayley
, July 2009
Claudio Abbado’s career has had its ups and downs, musically and professionally. His tenure as music director of the Berlin Philharmonic, in particular, drew criticism from certain quarters, particularly those of Teutonic origin who did not like his lean Italian sound or his interpretations; yet he gave outstanding performances with that orchestra, particularly of Mahler. In Italian music he has usually been praised, however, and this relatively early concert (or pair of concerts—the notes are inconclusive) shows him conducting music of the Italian Baroque in that manner and style I have always enjoyed, using a small orchestra with modern instruments and singers who are not embarrassed to utilize dynamic contrasts in the music they perform.
Pergolesi’s Stabat mater is the crown jewel of this concert, and rightfully so. No other work of the Italian Baroque, to me, is better written or more emotionally moving. Technically, there is nothing particularly “modern” about it in the context of its time, yet his manipulation of musical material was at least 60 years ahead of its time. Perhaps its greatest innovation was the lessening of countermovement in the lower voices of the orchestra. By minimizing movement in the inner voices, Pergolesi freed himself and his listeners from being clever or admiring his cleverness, and allowed concentration to be on the emotional pull of the music.
I heard Ricciarelli in concert just once, with tenor José Carreras, in 1976. She had a gorgeous voice but could be interpretively dull. Here she is not in good voice to start with, her high range being too open and squally and her trills unfocused, but in “Qui est homo” she sounds fine. I almost saw Valentini-Terrani’s Metropolitan Opera debut, but decided against it. She was subbing for Marilyn Horne in one of her Rossini specialties, and I’d bought the tickets to hear Horne, so when I heard an unknown was subbing for her, I sold my tickets to Max the scalper. (Max wasn’t happy about buying them; he couldn’t even get rid of the ones he already had.) I never particularly cared for her voice, as the vibrato was too ripe for my taste. She does sing cleanly here, though you’ll have a hard time discerning between her vibrato and her trills.
Abbado is in fine form, conducting this reduced band without a baton and bringing out wonderful detail as well as feeling from the score. The Vivaldi concertos are, of course, at the opposite end of the spectrum, extroverted music that delights the listener by its energy and complexity rather than emotional impact. It’s a pity that none of the soloists in either concerto are identified in the closing credits or the booklet. The first violinist in RV 556 has a particularly beautiful tone and plays with wonderful feeling and style. The two trumpets are also quite good. The sound quality is excellent for its day, and the Stiftskirche where this was filmed is simply exquisite. Recommended for fans of Abbado, Ricciarelli, Pergolesi, and Vivaldi.