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Andrew Quint
Fanfare, November 2011

…the results, musically and technically, are every bit as spectacular as the earlier discs. Abbado’s identification with what is arguably Mahler’s most profound purely orchestral utterance is complete, the sound is superb, and the video editing is informed by a sophisticated comprehension of the music. Beyond that, the deep bond of artistic understanding that Abbado has established with the Lucerne players comes through your speakers and television monitor in a way that transports one to the Swiss venue in August of 2010. The audience sat in stunned silence for nearly two minutes after the final notes died away. You will, too.

David Gutman
Gramophone, June 2011

Abbado’s unparalleled ‘orchestra of soloists’ in Mahler’s valedictory Ninth

The fact that Mahler’s Ninth no longer presents a fierce challenge to orchestras and their musicians can bring losses as well as gains. Listeners brought up on Bruno Walter’s 78s may even feel that the sound of an orchestra clinging on for dear life in music it can barely play is part of the intended effect. Claudio Abbado clearly doesn’t agree. This, his fourth commercial recording of the work, is even more luminous, elegant and subtly integrated than its predecessors. In some recent Abbado interpretations, the Mediterranean fluency and rapid pacing implies a hint of complacency or, at least, a reluctance to wrestle with those darker and more tumultuous corners of the score. I didn’t feel that for one moment in his glorious account of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony (EuroArts) and it certainly isn’t the case with this Ninth, which can only be described as unmissable.

The first movement, marked Andante comodo, now seems ideally plotted, more spacious than in his previous DVD recording with the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra (EuroArts), with playing even more proficient than in his famous Berlin concert version (DG). There is perhaps less gain in the inner movements, where sceptics (who tend to be American with this conductor) will levy the charge that Mahler executed with the refinement and subtlety of chamber music is Mahler deracinated or Mahler-lite. Perhaps so, yet it hardly seems to matter: Abbado’s almost playful approach brings its own rewards. The great final Adagio, crowning the reading even more effectively than before, is as deeply affecting as I have ever heard it.

For me, and I suspect for Shirley Apthorp who has written the accompanying booklet note, Abbado’s only real rival here is Leonard Bernstein—ideally in the quite elderly (1971) performance now on DVD (DG). The surprise is that in his less insistently emotive way Abbado is just as likely to prompt the tears. An interpretation that might seem too cool is in fact superbly gauged to provide maximal catharsis by the close—and there are intrusive post-performance shots of weeping concertgoers thrown in to prove it. As one expects in Lucerne, the reluctant icon commands absolute respect from hand-picked musicians and well-heeled audience members alike. When the music finally ends and, as in any truly great account of this highly affecting score, one feels that life itself is ebbing away, all present are held in awed silence. Even when the time comes for Abbado to finally lower his hands and for the players to put down their instruments, the spell remains unbroken for a while longer. The ovation when it comes is suitably tremendous. The conductor looks as gaunt as ever but happy with what has been achieved.

The Lucerne Festival’s recent switch of allegiance to the relatively new Accentus label has brought only minor changes in presentational style. The cover artwork is unexpected but apposite—the tree imagery is Egon Schiele’s. Inside, the obsession with maestro Willem Mengelberg is a little puzzling given Abbado’s suaver manner. It is presumably Abbado who asked for the lights to be dimmed in the final stages. Did he want the so-called multi-angle camera feature focused on the podium (in the first movement alone)? The sound is good if dryish still. Strongly recommended—but you knew that.

James Inverne
Gramophone, June 2011

I have said before that Abbado’s Mahler isn’t always to my taste (having sometimes found it too polished, too assured for the requisite sense of danger, even madness kept barely at bay). But then, I have also often followed that with, “This set, on the other hand…” So I suppose I should now drop the caveats and join the legions of his admirers in this music. Certainly what he lacks in roughness is more than compensated for with deep profundity.

Colin Anderson
The Classical Review, March 2011

MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 9 (Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Abbado) (NTSC) ACC-20214
MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 9 (Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Abbado) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) ACC-10214

Even allowing that 2010 was 150 years since Mahler’s birth, and 2011 is the centenary of his death, we have lived in Mahler-sated times long before these years and will no doubt continue to do so. His is a relatively small oeuvre, so the nine, ten or eleven symphonies (I include Das Lied von der Erde and the unfinished Tenth in its various completions) seem to come around too often, to the point that familiarity ushers in the onset of desensitisation and performances risk beginning to seem too similar.

A few days before viewing this DVD I had heard a monumental account of Mahler’s last completed symphony with Christoph Eschenbach conducting the London Philharmonic in London’s Royal Festival Hall, a 93-minute account, which included a 32-minute finale preceded by one of the fleetest versions of the ‘Rondo-Burleske’. Such timings in themselves added a certain novelty to an engrossing if sometimes less than convincing performance.

No such newness, save a visual one, informs this remarkable (84-minute) performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony from Claudio Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. Yet it stands as a genuinely great account, entirely made from the music itself. The orchestra produces a wonderful beauty of sound, yet not as an end in itself. Abbado doesn’t linger in the opening movement; indeed this is a perfect Andante comodo, the conductor accommodating each episode within a welded and inevitable whole to bring out Mahler’s inner fire as well as the music’s icy shadows.

There’s no lack of passion here in music that can be made to seem too valedictory too early. Nothing is forced or wallowed in, changes of tempo and mood charted with innate sensitivity. The second-movement ‘Ländler’ joyfully exhibits rustic vitality, and contrasts are brusque, as they should be. The ‘Rondo-Burleske’ is incisive and articulate—ironic, caustic and defiant—with an electrifying acceleration to the finishing post.

The slow finale is far from marmoreal; there is flow and ardor, with an increasing serenity that makes the ending’s fade to nothingness seem pre-destined; here it is chilled yet luminescent. For these last measures Abbado had the house-lights dimmed to virtual darkness. This seems an error of judgement, for the music itself brings its own dusky privacy. The booklet’s timing for this last movement states 28 minutes but does not include the two-minutes-plus of silence that follows the barest of musical sounds and the outburst of enthusiastic applause.

This a compelling and intrinsic account of the Ninth Symphony, superbly played with power and transparency and a wide dynamic range (faithfully captured by the live recording in the KKL Concert Hall, Lucerne in August 2010). Solos are unfailingly characterful but always integrated into the musical fabric. The filming itself is intelligent and pertinent.

This is an altogether special performance and serves the greatness of the music.

Robert Benson, March 2011

MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 9 (Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Abbado) (NTSC) ACC-20214
MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 9 (Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Abbado) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) ACC-10214

This performance of Mahler’s last completed symphony is absolutely perfect in every way. This symphony always has been close to Abbado; he recorded it in 1988 with the Vienna Philharmonic and in 2002 with the Berlin Philharmonic. Now we have this magnificent performance in a superb production that brings the viewer inside the music, particularly the final movement which could be called Mahler’s farewell to life. The Lucerne Festival Orchestra features top players from many of the world’s leading orchestras, musicians who participate because they want to be involved in the pinnacle of music-making. During the final pages, hall lights are dimmed a bit as the soft final notes are played. It is magic, not a sound or movement anywhere. Abbado, performers and audience, are transfigured by the music and there is silence for about two minutes. This is the most perfect heart-rending performance of Mahler’s farewell to life made even more poignant when one considers the age and fragility of the conductor. For many, this will be a shattering—and essential—experience. Video and audio are just about perfect, and one has the option to view Abbado through the entire performance; otherwise we have the usual highlighting of various solos and sections of the orchestra. Don’t miss this one!!

Nicholas Sheffo
Fulvue Drive-in, February 2011

Claudio Abbado & Lucerne Festival Orchestra – Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 (Accentus Music) is yet another exceptional volume of Abbado handling a classic work with such ease, it brings new life to it. His performances of Mahler Symphonies 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 are already on Blu-ray…

I am again impressed and happy to recommend the disc, which has a Multi-Angle Feature: Conductor’s Camera that is a nice twist on the standard approach of these releases that is not a mere gimmick, but a new way to look at his work in progress and make the arts more involving. You might want to start with this Blu-ray from all the Mahler Blus he has had issued to date.

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11:15:22 AM, 4 May 2015
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