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Mahler 9 in Lucerne

Over the years we have been following the exploits of Claudio Abbado, who appears around this time at the Lucerne Festival with the orchestra of musicians who come together for that event. This year's Mahler symphony was No. 9, and it was apparently pretty good, according to Shirley Apthorp (Lucerne Festival Orchestra, KKL, Lucerne, August 24) for the Financial Times:

For the last bars of Mahler’s ninth symphony, Abbado lets the stage lights dim and pulls the tempo back to a point just short of absurdity. The strings, already playing softer than a whisper, are forced to a pianissimo that is barely louder than thought. Nobody in the audience dares move a muscle, even when the final note fades to nothing. Abbado, now in full command of every person in the hall, holds the silence. The seconds drag past. Still he holds. A minute stretches into eternity and, when a few gentle coughs break the hush, listeners begin to shift in their seats and exchange glances of incredulity. Abbado gives no quarter. Obedient, the audience falls back into reverential silence, until finally, after more than two minutes, the conductor lets his right hand drop to his side and the stunned public eases its way into a standing ovation.
Was the playing really that great? Or was the magic in the hall that night making up for the obvious faults that Apthorp noted in her review? Judge for yourself, as much as you can, by watching the video online. Other reviews were published in The Telegraph and The Guardian.

1 comment:

Nigel Boon NSO said...

I was lucky enough to be there for the performance the following day, and it really was that good. Here's what Paul Gent in the Daily Telegraph had to say about the end and the silence:

"As the violins began the slow winding-down and decomposition of the final pages, the texture thinned to a spectral web. Several times, the music seemed almost to stutter to an exhausted halt. At last, the strings whispered the final phrase, almost inaudibly.

And nothing happened. Abbado kept his arms raised, the players held their instruments in position. I almost forgot to breathe. Then, slowly, he lowered his hands and the musicians put down their instruments.

And still nothing happened. The rapt audience sat in silence, unwilling to break the mood, for maybe two minutes – an eternity in the concert hall.

At last the applause started and went on even longer than the silence. It was an extraordinary end to an extraordinary concert."

It also seemed to me that the two minutes of silence weren't so much held by Abbado as by the audience, which didn't want to break the spell. It was really quite remarkable...