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Abbado and Pollini, Lucerne Festival

Claudio Abbado, conductorLucerne would be a nice place to be in late August, as I described in a roundup of reviews of the opening concert of the Lucerne Festival. Claudio Abbado led a second concert with his extraordinary orchestra, with Maurizio Pollini as soloist, for good measure. Jean-Louis Validire reviewed that event (Lucerne hypnotisé par Claudio Abbado, August 21) for Le Figaro (my translation and links added):

With his back to the house and his arms folded on his chest, Claudio Abbado remained immobile; the audience, tetanized [!] by the performance of Bruckner's fourth symphony, made no sound. Long seconds flowed away as if holding back time, as if prolonging this interior voyage on which the conductor had taken us. Finally a timid bravo broke out and freed the enthusiasm of the listeners in the concert hall of the Lucerne Kultur und Kongresscentrum, the KKL designed by Jean Nouvel, which has housed the summer festival since 1998. [...]

Bruckner's fourth symphony, played in this festival consecrated this year to the theme of language, made evident the individual qualities of the soloists, notably of the horn player, the impeccable Robert Schneider, and of all the brass who sounded with a homogeneity and harmonious clarity in a room with a miraculous acoustic. The work also brought out the suppleness and musicality of the ensemble in its search for the colors and timbres that Abbado sought out subtly, from piano to forte, in a conception that gave the work a rigor and logic that transcended the themes that Bruckner gave to this symphony that he himself named "Romantic." Nothing pastoral in this introspective plunge that evoked more the Victor Hugo of the Contemplations in the poem "Ce que dit la bouche d'ombre qu'une aimable partie de chasse," as the horn's recurrent theme could make us believe.
If you do not instantly recognize the specific poem Validire is citing, here is my quick (and not very poetic) translation of the first few lines:
The man while dreaming descends into the universal void.
I was wandering near the dolmen that overlooks Rozel,
At the place where the shore point extends into a peninsula.
The specter was waiting for me; the somber and tranquil being
Took me by the hair in his hand that grew larger,
Carried me up to the height of the cliff, and told me:
"Know that everyone knows his law, his end, his path;
That, from the star to the mite, the immensity is heard;
That everything is aware in all creation;
And the ear can have its vision,
Because things and being have a great dialogue.
Everything speaks; the air that blows by and the halcyon [kingfisher] that floats,
The green plants, the flower, the germ, the element.
Did you thus imagine the universe any other way?"
Yes, nature is alive with sounds that speak at God's command, and Bruckner's fourth symphony is the same sort of revelation, spoken by a ghost that lifts you up by the hair. I love that not only can a journalist refer to a poem by Victor Hugo in France, in a concert review, but that he can apparently expect a reasonable number of readers to know the lines. This is in a newspaper, folks.

Validire was not as impressed with Pollini's work in the Brahms second piano concerto, "an ascetic and purified interpretation that left no room for emotion or singing." It was "technically magnificent" but "too intellectual." Little matter, since the Lucerne Festival is featuring the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, as well as the orchestras of Philadelphia (Eschenbach), Cleveland (Franz Welser-Möst), and San Francisco (Michael Tilson Thomas), not to mention soloists like András Schiff, Thomas Quasthoff, and Matthias Goerne. The Lucerne Festival lasts until September 17.

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