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Abbado and Bartoli in Lucerne

Claudio Abbado, conductorIf I had the money and no little reasons to stay at home, how many music festivals would I attend? I don't know, but I think I would be at the Lucerne Festival right now. The concerts opened with a concert by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, led by Claudio Abbado -- essentially the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (Jens recently reviewed their new recording of The Magic Flute) with some remarkable ringers. Shirley Apthorp was in Switzerland writing a review (Abbado Draws Out Mahler's Desperate Vision at Lucerne Festival, August 14) for Bloomberg News:

Abbado has rallied a daunting collection of team-minded soloists around the core of the superlative Mahler Chamber Orchestra, and the result is a symphonic body without peer. No doubt it helps that there is a collective willingness to do the maestro's bidding. The cause is just, because the music-making that emerges is of consummate subtlety and sophistication. The elitism isn't expressed in exclusion. Extra sponsorship by Swisscom AG enabled a live broadcast of the concert on a giant outdoor screen next to the KKL concert hall, watched by thousands. [...]

The apocalypse came after the interval, in the form of Mahler's cataclysmic sixth symphony. This sprawling, bleak work is one of Mahler's darkest, filled with sarcasm and paced to the marching tread of death. Abbado, conducting the full forces of his orchestra from memory, drew out all the poetry and desperation. Though each line was traced with painterly grace, there was no beauty of sound for its own sake. Rather, Abbado laid bare the bleak bones and acrid dissonances of the piece, bringing out its gallows humor and mortal terror, and leading the listener by the hand straight into the gaping maw of its catastrophic conclusion. The full force of immense orchestra could be felt with a physical intensity that went beyond mere hearing. It was a terrifying experience, met with a stunned silence that continued for a full 15 seconds. Then began tentative applause that culminated in a long standing ovation.
Jens was mostly unmoved by Abbado's recording of Mahler's Sixth with the Berlin Philharmonic last year. Marie-Aude Roux also wrote a review (Lucerne ouvre dans l'euphorie, August 13) for Le Monde (my translation and links added):
It was 16 degrees and raining cats and dogs in Lucerne on August 10. The Lac des Quatre-Cantons, all shivering with gooseflesh, did nothing to dampen the jubilation of the swans, coots, and ducks, or the determination of the music-lovers who hurried to the entrance of the magnificent Kultur und Kongresszentrum Luzern (KKL), created by the architect Jean Nouvel, where the Lucerne Festival has been held since 1998. [...]

Other Reviews:

Richard Morrison, Opening Concert (London Sunday Times, August 13)
From 1943 to 1999, the Swiss Festival Orchestra was made up of the best players from Swiss orchestras. Reformed by Abbado in 2003 on the foundation of his orchestra of young people, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, this symphonic group welcomes a large number of soloists. So there is cellist Natalia Gutman, clarinetist Sabine Meyer and her wind ensemble, the members of the Alban Berg Quartet, violinist Kolja Blacher, and for the first time, members of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra created by Abbado in Venezuela. [...]

For the first half of Mozart arias, the sensual and petulant Cecilia Bartoli exploded on the stage in a strawberry pink and cream gown, Barbarella hairdo, and sparkly dog collar. The pretty concert air "Chi sa, chi sa, quial sa" (K. 582) was swallowed in a single bite by the gourmande, who followed it with Sesto's aria "Parto, parto, ma tu ben moi" from La Clemenza di Tito. There is no better than she is with such precision in the text, which she incised in an exquisite duo with the superlative clarinet of Sabine Meyer.
Abbado and his orchestra play again tonight and Saturday night, a program combining Bruckner's Fourth Symphony and Maurizio Pollini playing Brahms's second piano concerto.

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