on 20 August 2010
I discovered Mahler through his Symphony no 1 followed by no 4, but it took some time before I was, let's say, ready for the mammoth symphonies. Compared to his other symphonies, no 1 is often a little neglected, unjustifiably. However, it is interesting that Abbado and his superb Lucerne Festival Orchestra have recorded for DVD almost all of the other symphonies before arriving at no 1 (no 9 should be recorded this year, and is it asking too much for no 8 next year?) Therefore it is always nice to come back to the work where it all started for me, and for many others.
Abbado conducts both works (the symphony is coupled with Prokofiev's piano concerto no 3) without baton, the first time that I see him do this.
The symphony is played superbly. The music pulsates forward with incredible impetus and vitality. Abbado's interaction with the orchestra and his minimal movements just show that this is a magic combination. Their relationship has clearly reached maturity now. My favourite movement of this symphony is the third movement. The combination of Frere Jacques in a minor key, and the almost cabaret style music make for magic moments.
The Prokofiev Piano concerto no 3 with Yuja Wang will inevitably be compared with Abbado's recording with Martha Argerich, the first recording he ever made for Deutsche Grammophon. Wang is a great pianist already, and life as a young artist does not get much better than with an endorsement from Claudio Abbado. Look at what he has done for other artists like Christine Schäfer, Jonas Kauffman and Anna Netrebko. It is amazing to watch Wang play this concerto with such calm, hiding how immensely difficult it really is.
This DVD is highly recommended, and is a welcome next installment in the Abbado Lucerne Mahler cycle.
One last point: Sir Simon Rattle, who succeeded Claudio Abbado as music director at the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, attended this concert. That in itself is a recommendation.
Abbado has the enviable reputation of being one of the world's finest Mahler conductors. This has been further reinforced by his set of performances held at Lucerne with his hand-picked orchestra constituting the Lucerne Festival orchestra.
This very large orchestra, apart from containing musicians of outstanding individual abilities, also lays great stress upon their empathy and experience with the world of chamber music. Thus is achieved the unusual combination of orchestral size allied to individual and corporate sensitivity. This suits Abbado's particular vision of Mahler and this is apparent throughout this recording which many would describe as close to definitive.
The upcoming series planned by Chailly, also on Blu-ray, might become a serious competitor to Abbado however. Chailly's Mahler 2 and 8 are now available. Some find Chailly preferable as an approach - being a degree less overtly emotional and more orchestrally cohesive rather than sharing Abbado's expanded chamber music approach perhaps. I personally find both approaches equally satisfying in their different ways (see my Chailly review of Mahler 2 for further details).
The Prokofiev for me however, is the complete revelation. Yuja Wang brings an astonishing level of artistic and technical perfection to this piece - and especially and unusually - sheer joy! Like Sarah Chang, the violinist, her delight in the music and her performance is illustrated time and time again by fleeting expressions and smiles of pleasure or amusement flitting across her face. No technical worries here, even at times of breakneck speed. A tremendous range of expression from delicacy to incisive power and all with total rhythmic mastery. I own a considerable number of versions of this work on disc, including all the reference recordings, and this one matches any. You also have the advantage of seeing it!
The generously spacious layout of the orchestra allows the camera work to achieve equivalent sensitivity of detail as well as panoramic effect. The surround and stereo sound captures all of this with admirable lucidity.
In my opinion this is a clear contender for the full 5 stars and should give much pleasure and satisfaction to all purchasers of the recording.