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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ultimate Mahler experience!, 20 Feb 2011
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This review is from: Mahler: Symphony No. 9 [Blu-ray] [2011] [Region Free] (Blu-ray)
Since the beginning of Claudio Abbado's recording relationship with Mahler back in the early 1970's, it has been abundantly clear that here was a conductor with an extraordinary flair for the style of this at the same time childishly extrovert and emotionally twisted composer, a conductor who understood to perfection how to translate a very peculiar and extensive use of the symphony orchestra into very effective music. In those days I did, I must admit, miss a bit of the neurotic part of Mahler, his schismatic relations to stif (and often hypocritical) Judeo-Christian morality, his at times spasmotically depressive "Weltanschauung", and his life-long fear of loss and death. For proper illumination of these facets of the music one had to turn to Leonard Bernstein, the other great Mahlerian of the era, who admittedly, for better and for worse, laid it on a bit thick at times.

I feel bad saying this, but - to me at least - it seems that Abbado's much publicized protracted near-death experience (or maybe it is just age?) has turned his focus elsewhere in Mahler's symphonic output. Since the beginning of the present set of symphonies (recorded on DVD, and now Blu-ray, at the summer festivals in idyllic Lucerne), of which the 8th is now the only one left to be tackled, we have been given an otherworldly beauty combined with dark introspection and the most oppressive - but never caricated - angst, as well as artistically perfect musicianship, and the picture is now complete. On the back of the cover of the 3rd symphony the New York Times is quoted, calling Abbado "the most respected living conductor", which, certainly when it comes to Mahler, is an all but inescapable conclusion. I can think of no one who in that field could even scratch his knee caps.

Much has been said and written over the years about soloists and their ability to work constructively with other musicians. I think it was Menahem Pressler, undaunted octogenarian pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio for going on 56 years, who once said that he gave up a career as a soloist because not just the touring activity but also the mindset would damage his work with the trio. He may have been absolutely right at the time, but today it seems soloists are made of a different clay, and I can only say that the handpicked Lucerne Festival Orchestra is an unmitigated joy to both watch and listen to. Like a shoal of sardines the members twist and turn in perfect unison in their sometimes superhuman attempts to give the last drop of their essences for a maestro, who has, in this troupe of extraordinary artists, found a Pretorian guard who will literally lay down their lives to turn every minute shade of his unique insight into reality. I'm not saying that the Berlin Philharmonic didn't try to do the same - or the Vienna ditto, for that matter - but the devotion and the will to sacrifice oneself utterly for the good of the larger purpose, as experienced in these recordings, is little short of incredible.

How fare the music then? Well, I hate to say: "I lack the words needed for an adequate description" - for what then is the point of a review, but ... I'm afraid that for once I find that I really do. Compared to his recording of the 9th with the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester back in 2004 (as well as his otherwise marvelous BPO CD-recording of 2002), Abbado is just that much more THERE. In almost every phrase I find things in the music I never heard before, and the suspense and intensity is, for want of a better word, Hitchcock'ian (or is it 'esque?). Gaunt and occasionally teary eyed, Abbado presides over the solemn rites of the tortured soul of Gustav Mahler, and at the end of the unprecedented close to two minutes of dead silence following the last notes of the valedictory Adagio, I sincerely thought: "OK, now the violins get up and carry the maestro - drooling and cyanotic - off stage like they did Sinopoli; anything less would be an anticlimax". Not quite yet, though. May whosoever guards the last existing iota of Mahler's genius grant Abbado another decade or two of service to the cause. No better man could conceivably be found!

Every issue in this series of Mahler symphony recordings is a revelation - the 2nd, 6th and 7th in particular. This 9th is an unmissable non-plus-ultra of inspired music-making. Get it now - or, trust me, you'll be the poorer for it.
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