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Christopher Abbot
Fanfare, July 2011

EuroArts released a DVD of Claudio Abbado conducting the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra in Mahler’s Ninth in 2004, a recording I reviewed in Fanfare 29:2. This new series of Mahler recordings from the Lucerne Festival complements Abbado’s earlier recordings for DG; but for many listeners, among whom I number myself, these DVDs supplant the CDs. Abbado has sometimes been criticized for the detached manner of his Mahler recordings, but the emotional commitment on view at the Lucerne Festival concerts is undeniable.

On this new recording of the Ninth, however, restraint is the order of the day. String sonorities predominate, and in the first movement, there is sweep to the exposition and development, but the brass seems to be reined in, except in the snarling three-note motive in the climax leading to the recapitulation. In the second movement, the jaunty Ländler isn’t heavily accented; Rattle’s EMI CD is more obviously pesante by comparison. The waltz is stiff, almost as though serving as a corrective to its less suave country cousin; there is a tinge of nostalgia to the slow Ländler.

There is admirable precision in the onslaught of fragmented themes in the beginning and ending of the Rondo. This third movement isn’t as emphatic as those by Rattle or Bernstein; the satire here is laid on with a subtler brush. The Trio is gently intrusive and heartfelt, giving way to intrusive and carping winds, then to a final sigh as the Rondo reasserts itself. Restraint is again the watchword in the Adagio finale. These aren’t the emphatic, intense phrases of Bernstein or Tilson Thomas; though there is feeling here, it just isn’t as obviously heart-on-sleeve. This concert introduces an intriguing touch: During the last few minutes, the stage lights are dimmed, becoming a visual complement to the dying moments of the symphony. Abbado now takes these measures very slowly. As the last notes decay, the orchestra sits in silence, Abbado is motionless, and for over two minutes there is no sound, until the audience erupts for what becomes an extended ovation. It’s all quite theatrical, but there is no denying its effectiveness.

Abbado’s is not my ideal Ninth: I prefer the more highly contrasted approach of, most recently, Simon Rattle/Berlin and MTT/San Francisco, and of Bernstein/New York before them. When the performance is at this level of professionalism, however, my preferences hardly matter. Those listeners/viewers seeking consummate musicianship and masterly conducting need look no further. The sound production (stereo, DTS, and Dolby 5.1) is better than those heard on DG’s Abbado CDs, and the video production is crisp and sensible. Abbado in Lucerne: What else needs to be said?




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.



Daniel Foley
The WholeNote, March 2011

This is the second DVD of Abbado conducting this work at the Lucerne Festival; a previous 2005 EuroArts release had featured a marvellous rendition by the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra. As fine as that performance was, I find myself utterly astonished by the excellence of this latest incarnation from August of 2010 with the incomparable Lucerne Festival Orchestra. From start to finish conductor and orchestra are of one mind, setting a new standard of excellence in revealing this purportedly death-obsessed work as a fiery affirmation of life. The very soul of Mahler is stripped bare, tender and defiant, sarcastic and caring, brave and pensive, in a truly revelatory performance of astounding sensitivity and beauty of tone. As the house lights dim theatrically during the final pages of the symphony we are transported into an atmosphere of sublime transcendence: now barely audible, the music is drawn out to infinity and evaporates into two and a half minutes of stunned silence from an audience which clearly has witnessed a truly historic event. The DVD (also available in the Blu-Ray format) is skilfully filmed with vastly improved sound from previous releases and includes the option of a “conductor camera” view focused on Abbado alone.



Robert Benson
ClassicalCDReview.com, 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!!



Hank Zauderer
My Classical Notes, February 2011

I am hearing more and more great music performed by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, and I think they are terrific!

On this DVD, Claudio Abbado and his hand-picked players of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra take their acclaimed Mahler cycle to a new level with this performance of the most serious and compelling of the symphonies, the intense, emotional, tragic Ninth.

Mr Abbado brings all his musical experience to this fine performance. The performance is from the summer of 2010, and it is a simply a sensational interpretation.






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