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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
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2014 has been a year of loss in the musical world, with the announced passing of Lorin Maazel following on from the equally sad loss of Claudio Abbado. Whereas Maazel was a controversial figure who divided opinion and aroused no small amount of animosity throughout his career, the genial, quiet spoken football loving Abbado was liked and admired in equal measure wherever he worked.
Abbado has left us an extensive discography, with many of his recordings from as far back as 40 years ago still among the top recommendations.
I treasure his recordings of Debussy and Ravel, Russian music, Italian Opera and also of music of the Second Viennese School among my extensive collection of his recordings.

He was also superb in Richard Strauss and to a degree in Wagner, but in general when it came to the German Romantic School I have always felt that he was too often afflicted by "Mercedes-Benz Syndrome", which is to say German engineering at its reliable best, beautifully upholstered and comfortable and providing a journey free from drama or the unexpected!

While this is exactly what I want in a saloon car, it is not what I want necessarily in music, and I have always found Abbado's Bruckner with the VPO to be exactly in this category-lush, gorgeous and with no exaggerated gestures, but rather careful and lacking in drama and intensity compared to the very best.
This was certainly true of his earlier recording of the Ninth-there was nothing obviously wrong with it, but neither did it set the pulses racing.
I have no "fixed idea" of how I want this work to be interpreted-I love the Giulini/VPO recording above all others, but get almost equal joy from Karajan, Sinopoli, Sawallisch, Blomstedt (Leipzig), Skrowaczewski to name but a few contrasting interpretations and am a recent convert to the extreme Bernstein performance which I deplored for years, but have come to love as yet another unique insight into this endlessly fascinating work.

Among the invaluable legacy left to us by Maestro Abbado is his founding of a new Lucerne Festival Orchestra, which was formerly the VPO under a different name, but is now made up of top ranking musicians from all over the world, many renowned soloists in their own right, and who have combined to form what is arguably the finest orchestra working today-and this can be heard to the full on this fabulous Accentus Recording released under the DG imprimatur.

The playing is nothing short of sublime, with the richness of Vienna in the brass, the silverine homogenous string tone of Dresden and the overall virtuosity of the BRSO.
The recording catches in full glory the weight and richness of tone contrasted with a chamber like delicacy in more transparent sections. It is every bit as fine and detailed as the Reference Recording for Skrowaczewski, and the low growl of the Wagner Tubas as they " bite the air" has never sounded more imposingly than on this recording.

I am happy to be able to recount that without being influenced in any way by the sad circumstance of this ,his unintended last performance, that the experience and insight gained over the years results in a superb reading of this great work to which I want to return again and again.

After an imposing, drawn out opening Abbado adopts a swifter tempo than many, bordering on the style of Sawallisch in that it does not pile on intensity but allows the music to flow lyrically and with little or no exaggerated gestures.
It is beautifully lyrical rather than searingly intense -Abbado didn't really do intensity which is why I have never taken to his recordings of Mahler 9-but this work does not need that, and Bruckner provides enough drama and intensity inherent in the music to allow for a more detached approach.

The climax of the movement though is stunning-hair-raising in fact.
As the low Brass kick in announcing the final peroration, my polished floor boards vibrated tellingly, and the movement ends in a blaze of glory.

The Scherzo is just that-fleet of foot and witty with dark humour rather than being redolent of the hammer blows of fate of Bernstein for example, and the brief lyrical section is not an extended sigh but is if anything a brief shrug of the shoulders.

The opening of the 3rd movement with its quotation from Tristan morphing into Parsifal is weighty and powerful, but again Abbado does not attempt the dangerously close to lugubrious approaches of Giulini or Celibidache, but again adopts the swifter, gentler approach of Sawallisch in letting the music flow naturally. The great "Verklarung" moment of the movement is as chilling and dramatic as one could wish for, and the movement subsides into a wistful, but beatific resignation.
Abbado in this reading has given the work the slightly greater momentum, nudged the rhythms and yet kept the overall architecture taut in a way that slightly eludes him I feel in his earlier reading, and this results in what is for me is a most satisfying Bruckner recording-and a really great Bruckner 9.

Abbado has used the standard Nowak Edition, eschewing the currently fashionable Cohrs Edition, and thankfully keeps those benighted Bruckner pauses to the length of a breath. I am quite happy with the incomplete 3 movement version, despite enjoying the Carragan and daft Peter Jan Marthe completions enormously (more than the other versions), and in the sense of this being a valedictory performance this is very fitting.

There is a very touching photograph behind the nacelle which holds the disc of a suited Abbado, his back slightly towards us, leaving the concert platform ( for the last time ) through a back door while the musicians behind him pack up their scores etc. I find it strangely touching and evocative.

Considering the health problems which beset him and forced his resignation from the BPO, Abbado's achievements these last 10 years have been nothing short of superhuman, and I feel a great sense of loss at his passing.
This recording however stands above this-it is in its own right a magnificent achievement and a must for all ardent Brucknerians. Unlimited Stars. Stewart Crowe.
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on 10 July 2014
This recording, made at the Lucerne Festival in 2013, was to be Abbado's final conducting appearance - and what a farewell it proved to be. Abbado's earlier Vienna account is completely eclipsed by this glowing yet finely wrought performance. Clearly the product of deep study and reflection, Abbado draws from his orchestra of star performers something other than a great traversal of a powerful symphony - it seems to reach beyond that moment in the Lucerne KKL concert hall. Whatever Abbado was himself contemplating as he directed this piece, the effect is one of transcendence. The beauty of the Adagio as performed here not only makes a perfectly satisfying conclusion, it acts as an ideal preface to what will forever be the silence of Bruckner's projected finale. There really is nothing one can listen to immediately after this - all one can do is reflect on the passing of the great artist that was Claudio Abbado.
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on 16 July 2014
At the start of this review I must declare an interest; I was fortunate enough to attend two of the performances in Lucerne from which this recording derives. These concerts were intensely moving at the time; that they would be turn out to be Claudio Abbado's last performances only adds an extra poignancy.

This unmissable recording confirms what we heard in the concerts in full measure. There is so much beautiful and characterful playing from the Lucerne Festival Orchestra (and the recording lets us hear it all). The transparency and luminosity that they bring to the score is extraordinary; I feel as if it's the first time I've heard this piece clearly, without any distortion. There's a delicacy and human quality to much of this performance that sets it apart from so many others. It's not underpowered though; the end of the first movement and the climax of the adagio are shattering.

Compared to other performances; Giulini's gravity is impressive but to my ears his performance sags under the weight of his slow tempi (he's 5.30 longer than Abbado). Walter's performance has warmth and lyricism but the scherzo is rather heavy handed. Rattle is fascinating, as always, but the clarity that makes so many of his performances so stimulating, outweighs the feeling for the idiom in this case. Of course there is Furtwangler in 1944 but that's another story entirely...

It's hard to put words what makes this new recording of Abbado's so compelling but it's something between natural expression and direct communication that is striking. He keeps the music moving forward, as it should, but each moment is fully realised somehow. We feel we reach the end of the piece, which long-held horn notes, too quickly, before we are ready. The end is both deeply a satisfying conclusion and at the same time open-ended.

I could not imagine a more perfect demonstration of the art of the Claudio Abbado and the LFO than this recording. It's a pity that these concerts were not recorded visually but let's hope that the Schubert Unfinished from the first half of the same concert will also be released on CD soon.
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on 22 September 2015
I've been struck recently by the similarities between Karajan and his successor at the BPO, Claudio Abbado. Not in terms of their music making or personalities, which were poles apart of course, but in other ways. Of course, both were principal conductors of the BPO, who were forced to give up their position for health reasons (amongst others). Both battled valiantly to overcome these serious health problems to continue conducting in their final years, until Abbado died a few months before his 81st birthday and Karajan a few months after. Both featured a Bruckner symphony in their last concert; with Karajan it was the Seventh, with Abbado the Ninth. DG was on hand to record live and release on CD Abbado's final concert performance, whilst they taped Karajan's Seventh in the studio during sessions that took place around the same time of his final concert.

(Sir Simon doesn't need to pay an awful lot of attention to this, since Furtwangler's final concert ended with a Beethoven symphony !)

But what of this new version of the Bruckner Ninth featuring the fabled Lucerne Festival Orchestra ? Well, the sound is very fine and the orchestral playing quite fabulous, the opening sting tremolando seemingly emerging from the very edge of sound itself - quite astonishing. Abbado's conception is noble, long-lined, eloquent and almost wistful at times. However, I have to say that it lacks the gaunt grandeur of Giulini's account with the VPO (Bruckner: Symphony No.9), the tragic splendour of Furtwangler (Bruckner: Symphony 9; Wagner: Tristan & Isolde Prelude), as well as the effect of a comet shooting across the darkened heavens of Karajan (Bruckner: Symphony No. 9). Perhaps some may appreciate his lighter, less cataclysmic touch, in which case this could be the version for you. For me though, whilst it is a massive improvement upon Abbado's earlier version with the Vienna PO (also DG), I would never choose to listen to it before the aforementioned three, nor indeed to Abbado's successor at the Berlin PO, Simon Rattle on EMI, that has the advantage of a completed last movement as well (Bruckner: Symphony No. 9).

Overall then, 3.5 stars - I'm happy to admit that I'm not one of these people who think just because it's one of this final offerings from this fine conductor, that ergo it must be good, or even great; I wasn't exactly bowled over by his final Schubert "Great" Symphony, nor the very late Mozart Piano Concertos with Argerich either and likewise, I am not sure if this Bruckner Ninth quite showcases Abbado's greatest strengths too. So I am also totally at loss as to why it is Gramophone Magazine's "Recording of the Year" for 2015, not least since the orginal review by Rob Cowan wasn't exactly a rave either. One for fans of the conductor and for those who like their Bruckner lighter than usual then maybe.
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on 14 July 2014
BMO'H is entitled to his views of course. The other reviewers here - with whom I gladly stand - may prove in the majority eventually. This is a transcendent, stupendously played and ridiculously well-recorded Bruckner 9, all bound together by Abbado's visionary interpretation. Just buy it. And maybe write a review of it too!!
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on 19 May 2016
A marvellous version of this monumental work by the Maestro at the prestigious Festival. How I wish I had been there in person but the quality of this CD suffices. Worth every penny!
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on 17 February 2016
First-rate performance and recording of a key work in Abbado's repertoire.
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on 5 December 2015
This is intoxicating and beautifully recorded music. Listen to this!
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on 24 February 2016
Beautiful music, beautifully played, nothing else to say.
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on 11 December 2014
This has always been my favourite symphony and I have several versions. I will listen to this often. It is a little mannered and some of the contrasts are perhaps excessive but the overall acoustic is marvellous. Thank you.
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