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Peter J. Rabinowitz
Fanfare, July 2011

PROKOFIEV, S.: Scythian Suite / BERG, A.: Lulu-Suite / TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I.: Symphony No. 6 (S. Bolivar Youth Orchestra, Abbado) (NTSC) ACC-20101
PROKOFIEV, S.: Scythian Suite / BERG, A.: Lulu-Suite / TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I.: Symphony No. 6 (S. Bolivar Youth Orchestra, Abbado) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) ACC-10204

As Abbado approaches his 80s, he’s been (not surprisingly) revisiting many works—especially the Mahler symphonies—that have been the cornerstones of his discography. But there’s nothing valedictory in these returns. Indeed, in terms of focus, conviction, and insight, his recent performances have revealed a renewed interpretive fire—a fire matched, on this new video concert, by the superb playing of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra. At this late date, there’s probably no need to celebrate the young players’ well-drilled accuracy (even with doubled horns and trumpets, the brass unanimity in the first-movement development of the Tchaikovsky is terrifying), their rhythmic energy, or their exceptional balances (listen to how well the harps and celesta come across in the third movement of the Prokofiev). Nor need I emphasize their obvious involvement (say, the bold treatment of the clashing syncopations and biting strings in the second movement of the Prokofiev or the snarl of the low brass at the end of the first movement of the Berg). But given their well-deserved reputation for pizazz (see, for example, their justly acclaimed Fiesta! recording, reviewed by Philip Scott in Fanfare 32:2, where it was also Want-Listed by both Scott and Raymond Tuttle), it may be worth emphasizing that this is no callow whiz-kid ensemble. In fact, what’s just as striking as their vitality is the nuance of the playing, both by the first-deskers and by the full ensemble: the evocative colors in the third movement of the Prokofiev, for instance, or the sensitivity to the harmonic ebb and flow of the big lines in the Berg.

Most gripping of all, in fact, are the quietest moments (including the charged silences) of the Tchaikovsky—the descent into nothingness at the end of the exposition of the first movement (where, as is common, Abbado substitutes bass clarinet for bassoon), the hush at the end of the second. Indeed, while one would expect a young ensemble to reach its peak in the third movement of the Tchaikovsky, it’s the eloquent reading of the finale (launched nearly attacca, before the reverb of the third movement has fully died away) that makes the strongest impact. This movement emerges as a single arc of emotion, and the ending is so heartbreaking that Abbado manages to keep the audience in total silence for more than half a minute after it has concluded.

…the video quality is excellent, and the surround sound…has tremendous immediacy and timbral accuracy. All in all, strongly recommended.

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