MAHLER Symphonie No. 2 DEBUSSY La Mer / Abbado

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GUSTAV MAHLER
Symphonie No. 2
»Auferstehung · Resurrection«

CLAUDE DEBUSSY
La Mer
Eteri Gvazava · Anna Larsson
Orfeón Donostiarra
Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Claudio Abbado
Int. Release 02 Aug. 2004
2 CDs / Download
0289 477 5082 6 2 CDs DDD GH2
Recorded live at the
Lucerne Festival, Sommer 2003


Track List

CD 1: Debussy: La Mer / Mahler: Smphony No.2 (1)

Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918)
La Mer, L.109

Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911)
Symphony No.2 in C minor - "Resurrection"

Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado

Total Playing Time 44:49

CD 2: Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (2-5)

Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911)
Symphony No.2 in C minor - "Resurrection"

Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado

Anna Larsson, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado

Eteri Gvazava, Anna Larsson, Orfeón Donostiarra, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado

Total Playing Time 1:00:30

Claudio Abbado's live DGG recording of Debussy and Mahler with the extraordinary virtuosos of his Lucerne Festival Orchestra heads my list. Both pieces demonstrate the Italian maestro's stunningly beautiful orchestra textures of the Debussy convey luminosity of a Turner seascape; the Mahler is the most intensely musical account since Bruno Walter's very different but similarly compelling version.

. . . impressive, though it's the powerful reading of Debussy's seascape that wins over the gigantic Mahler epic.

. . . there was a clear winner in my 'standard repertoire' allocation: a magical, ultra-lucid "La mer" from Claudio Abbado and friends.

The sound this orchestra produces is marvellous: highlights include a ravishing woodwind section, but also fabulously vibrant cellos and basses. In the Mahler, the choral contribution of the Orfeón Donostiarra is remarkable too, the low notes of the basses coming through with a resonance I have heard in few other performances . . . he brings Mahler's world wonderfully to life here with a vibrancy that I haven't heard in his earlier recordings of this symphony: in common with his other recent Mahler performances there is greater stature, sharper sense of drama and long-term trajectory, and deep insight. So it is the symphonic strength of the music that reigns supreme here -- and in those terms this new version is a triumph . . . superlative playing, fine singing, and above all conducting of new-found eloquence and poetry from Abbado . . . this is a wonderful, vivid, poetic performance to which I shall return very often. The last movement grows to a climax of truly awe-inspiring splendour, and the well-behaved Lucerne Festival audience wait just long enough after the last timpani thwack before going berserk -- and so they should. The recorded sound for the Mahler is very good, and the same is true in most of "La mer" . . . This is an enormously impressive release in many ways, but the most exciting is surely the prospect of Claudio Abbado embarking on a brilliantly fruitful Indian summer after his emergence from the dark tunnel of grave illness. That is cause for rejoicing.

Riveting performances recorded live . . . Abbado's Debussy has ravishing transparency; his Mahler is roof-raising.

Exhilarating intensity . . . There is tension and urgency in a performance that unfolds without a lapse as it sweeps to the thrilling choral finale.

Abbado joins a quartet of Italian conductors . . . none of these has found so much detail in the score, or even encompassed such a wealth of expression.

The debut recording from an orchestra whose players are the best of the best . . . The result is everything it should be and more. The Debussy is a fine recording, but the Mahler is without doubt one of the greatest versions yet of this much-recorded work. 5 Stars.

This is an interpretation so in love with its largesse, from the pulled-about glimpse of heaven minutes into the first movement onward, that only the seductive sonics typical of MTT's San Francisco Mahler cycle could carry it off. The end result is dressed to impress, and that's not enough when Abbado so evidently lives and feels every bar of the score . . . Abbado operates on levels of musicality that even his previous recordings could only dream about.

The sound of the Debussy is quite vivid -- immediate and natural . . . quite exciting. Abbado's "De l'aube" is . . . precise, taken at a moderate tempo that allows for maximum clarity . . . The "Jeux" is invested with wit and playfulness -- and rhythmic energy -- as well as the precision that typified the first piece. In the "Dialogue", it is the energy . . . as well as the precision and excellence of the playing that is foremost. This is idiomatic Debussy that allows one to focus on the brilliance of the orchestration: this paean to the sea should appeal even to the land-locked listener. The Mahler symphony sounds terrific, too -- the bass is deep and well defined, while there is a clarity and depth to the soundstage that greatly enhances Abbado's dramatic conception of the piece. The engineers have provided another vivid experience, which places the listener very close to the action without sounding in the least bit cramped or artificial . . . the lyrical and melodic are given high priority, while Mahler's dramatic contrast is fully in evidence . . . Anna Larsson sings a very sensitively phrased "Urlicht", equal parts nobility and melancholy.

As for a gift received, Debussy's "La mer" as a prelude to Mahler's Second Symphony under Claudio Abbado sheds startling new light on this compelling masterpiece. The playing of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra radiates.

Und der göttliche Funke springt über selbst aus der Konserve: Man schaut, hört, schwelgt und bildet sich ein, Debussys Farben noch nie so leuchtend, Mahlers Maestoso noch nie so pathosfrei und transparent erlebt zu haben.

Ein Stück Ewigkeit . . . Abbado scheint auf dem Zenit seines Könnens . . . Vieles in der durchaus fett besetzten 2. Symphonie von Mahler klingt so deutlich artikuliert, als würde hier im heimischen Wohnzimmer Kammermusik gespielt. Die Symphonie als ein Gebäude durchgehend aus gläsernen Bausteinen. Und dennoch geheimnisumwittert; mit religiöser Inbrunst, orchestralem Pathos durchwirkt. Ein Mirakel, wie das gelingen kann. Ebenfalls genial (man darf das ruhig mal sagen) Debussys "La Mer". Mit zartestem und zugleich felsenfestem Pinselstrich zeichnen Abbado und sein Orchester die drei Skizzen auf eine imaginäre Leinwand, so traumwandlerisch sicher in der Stimmführung, dass man selbst das leiseste Pianissimo-Kratzen vernimmt.

Hier wird dokumentiert, wie detailgenau, mit stringentem Bogen und ohne zackige Wucht Mahler erzählt werden kann. Und Debussys »La Mer«: eine wilde, doch transparente Ekstase.

In diesem Luzerner Festivalorchester 2003 spielen ausschließlich Musiker, die
gern mit Claudio Abbado arbeiten. Zusätzlich zum hochmotivierten Mahler Chamber
Orchestra sind etliche erstklassige Solisten Abbados Einladung gefolgt . . . Wie
bewegend und intensiv dieser Prozess für alle ist, mit dem gelöst wirkenden, visionär
die musikalische Welt gestaltenden Dirigenten über Tod und Auferstehung
nachzudenken, das spürt man in diesem Werk von Gustav Mahler. Die Musiker
geben Gedanken Gestalt und stellen ihr Können in den Dienst einer Idee, die den
irdischen Boden nie zu verlassen scheint und doch entschlossen und mit ganzer Kraft
ästhetisch voller Würde in wundersame Reiche dringt.

Debussys "La mer" überzeugt durch Fantastik und wilde Momente, Mahlers Zweite durch emotionale Intensität, zwischen Weltschmerz und anrührender Inbrunst.

Die internationale Fachpresse brach in Jubelstürme aus . . . und schon nach wenigen Takten wird klar, dass die überschwänglichen Kommentare nicht übertrieben waren. Neben der extremen Spielkultur und Homogenität dieses 133-köpfigen Star-Ensembles fasziniert besonders die kollektive Leidenschaft und totale Bereitschaft, sich dem neuerwachten, noch tiefer gehenden musikalischen Enthusiasmus des von schwerer Krankheit genesenen Dirgenten zu überantworten -- und in einer seltenen Gefühlsgemeinschaft die letzten, tiefsten Geheimnisse der Musik auszuloten: Wir erleben das Manifest von positiv Besessenen, die gemeinsam zum Kern der Musik vordringen wollen. Selten hat man die emotionale Logik, die Dramaturgie, die inneren Spannungsverläufe beider Werke so zwingend und zugleich so präzise ausgeleuchtet und emotional-belebt miterleben können. Hier wie da setzt Abbado neue Referenz-Marken . . .

Keine Spur von impressionistischem Dösen über parfümierte Klänge. Alles wirkt präzise ausgehorcht, transparent ausgeformt in den kühnen harmonischen Reibungen. Gustav Mahlers "Auferstehungssinfonie" gleicht einem brodelnden Feuerofen. Ein großer Spannungsbogen überwölbt die hypertrophen Klänge des ersten und letzten Satzes. Abbado erweist sich als souveräner Lotse durch all die Wildheiten und Ungebärdigkeiten der Partitur.

Sa "Mer" est une étude de couleurs qui regarderait plutôt vers les ciels de Monet, assoiffée de transparences . . . capturant l'ineffable . . . La conclusion, diaphane, donne l'impression d'une symphonie de timbres aquatiques. La légèreté des attaques, leur précision, la suractivité sous contôle qui anime le 'Dialogue du vent et de la mer', les contrebasses en fureur déclenchant le crescendo final demeurent sans équivalent . . . Abbado relit les premiers opus mahlériens à l'aune des ultimes, insufflant à l'ensemble du corpus une unité surprenante, résolument tournée vers l'avenir. Les recherches acoustiques auxquelles s'est livré Mahler dans sa "Symphonie Résurrection" appelaient une révision aussi radicale, génialement assumée par l'orchestre.

Une précision exemplaire sert à ravir cette approche incisive, diaphane, l´gère et puissante á la fois.

Abbado réunit les deux compositeurs à Lucerne . . . et, de nouveau, triomphe : Diapason d'or de l'année 2004 !

[Boulez:] Attentif comme peu d'autres à la transparence, au dosage et surtout à la fluidité des transition, il révolutionna notre écoute de "La Mer". . . . on préféra (pour une fois) son remake de Cleveland, une des références de l'ouvrage. [Abbado:] L'interprétation . . . est venue se placer en tête de la discographie. Une vision solaire, qui radiographie la partition comme aucune autre et bénéficie d'une prise de son exceptionnelle : on entend tout ! Et on l'entend à la fois comme une Peinture abstraite, un foisonnement de détails pointillistes, à la limite de l'expérimental, mais aussi comme un mouvement irrésistible, qui avance constamment. On a peine à croire qu'il s'agit d'un concert, tant la moindre intervention soliste est la perfection même.

Abbado la convierte en un canto épico a la inmortalidad del genio, cargando las tintas en un movimiento final apoteósico en el que Orfeón demuestra el porqué de la confianza del director en sus poderosas voces . . .

Abbado ... logra aquí otro momento memorable con una versión analítica, implacable, nerviosa, en ciertos momentos agria y ácida, pero siempre convincente y unitaria a pesar de la disparidad de estilos entre los diversos movimientos. Los innumerables matices solemnes, trágicos, grotescos, líricos, de misterio y esperanza, son captados y traducidos, por su minuciosa planificación sin que eso le impida poder desmenuzar la partitura y traducirla hasta en sus más pequeños detalles, combinando un riguroso respeto a lo escrito con un lirismo muy particular y un fraseo de elaborada, matización propio de los más grandes directores. Una extraordinaria interpretación, en suma, hecha dé un solo trazo, ácida y refinada al tiempo, muy bien tocada por una orquesta sensacional, perfecta en cualquier aspecto técnico, a considerar y absolutamente entregada, un Orfeón donostiarra insuperable en cuanto a entonación y expresividad, y dos solistas que cumplen a la perfección con sus breves cometidos. ... ¡Qué gran músico y que gran director! ... No se lo pierdan.

El sonido es espléndido y la orquesta (formada por el propio Abbado para el festival de Lucerna) fabulosa. ... preciosa versión de La mer ... Es una lectura vehemente, emocionante ...
Claudio Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra
A memoir of the summer of 2003

Expectations ran high in the concert hall of Lucerne's Cultural and Congress Centre on the evening of 14 August 2003. Here, finally, was the Lucerne Festival Orchestra that had been talked about so often during the previous weeks and days. Here, too, was Claudio Abbado, who had first appeared at the Lucerne International Music Festival - since 2001 known simply as the Lucerne Festival - in August 1966 and who had gone on to make musical history. There is no doubt that this combination of orchestra and conductor lent the event its special atmosphere. The concentration on the platform was as exceptional as that in the audience - and at the end the tension erupted in a frenzy of applause unlike anything seen or heard in the hall since it had opened in the summer of 1998.
The evening ended with Debussy's La mer. Yes, said the conductor a few days after the concert, they had really flown. Throughout the performance listeners felt that never before had they heard such detail, never before had the work been played with such infectious verve. English horn and cello blended together with wonderful inwardness, while flute and oboe sometimes seemed to have become a single instrument. But it was not only on the level of tone colour that the orchestra gave the impression of a single body of sound: its musical gestures and movements created the same sensation. When had the opening movement's climactic outbursts, the joy of the middle movement and the ecstasy of the finale been more vividly felt? No one who was present will ever forget the performance.
Much the same emotions were in evidence at the Lucerne Festival Orchestra's second concert, a performance of Mahler's Second Symphony. With its overt emotionalism and magnificent monomania, this work by a self-confident and ambitious thirty-year-old is not without its problems, but in the present performance everything seemed convincingly well proportioned, building in a single unbroken line from the savage onslaught of the cellos and basses in the symphony's opening bars to the powerful apotheosis of the final movement. Abbado succeeded in bringing out the beauties of the score, while keeping its element of kitsch under firm control, allowing the music to tell its story and at the same time ensuring that the discursiveness of the narrative was held in check with an unforgettable blend of vitality and precision. Above all, the orchestra's ability to envelop the listener set standards that others will strive in vain to surpass, an achievement helped in no small way by the design of Jean Nouvel's concert hall and by the crystal-clear translucency of Russell Johnson's acoustics.

An orchestra of soloists
This was all possible because the Lucerne Festival Orchestra represents a highly fruitful synthesis of two related ideas. One is the idea of an élite orchestra. On 25 August 1938, fifty-five years before the Lucerne Festival Orchestra first appeared in public, a concert was given outside Wagner's villa at Tribschen on Lake Lucerne, when Toscanini conducted an orchestra specially convened for the purpose. The bulk of its players came from the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, which its founder, the conductor Ernest Ansermet, had wanted to see used during the summer months. There were also sectional leaders from other Swiss symphony orchestras and a number of local chamber groups. The front desks of the strings were occupied by the violinist Adolf Busch and his string quartet. This élite orchestra formed the nucleus of the Swiss Festival Orchestra that was established in 1943 and which remained the Lucerne Festival's resident orchestra until 1993.
The Lucerne Festival Orchestra represents a continuation of this tradition. Each summer the world's leading orchestras meet on the shores of Lake Lucerne. If the festival wants to call on its own orchestra for special projects, it needs to have a world-class body of players at its disposal. In short, it is an élite orchestra as before, except that it is no longer made up exclusively of Swiss musicians. Rather, it draws on the finest players, from wherever they happen to come. As an institution it is intended to be a permanent affair, while at the same time being continuously reconstituted. This, then, was the starting point for Claudio Abbado and the festival's director, Michael Haefliger. The core of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra is provided by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, itself an élite body of players made up of all those former members of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra who are now too old to play in this last-named ensemble and who have distinguished themselves by their particular achievements within this group of highly gifted individuals.
During the summer of 2003 the Lucerne Festival Orchestra was joined by a number of chamber ensembles, just as had been the case with Toscanini's élite orchestra: these included the Hagen Quartet (only its viola player Veronika Hagen was missing) and the clarinettist Sabine Meyer's Wind Ensemble. But the orchestra also boasted a whole series of well-known soloists and section leaders of major orchestras, including the violinist Kolja Blacher, the leader of the Berlin Philharmonic, who performed the same function in Lausanne; Natalia Gutman as principal cellist; the trumpeter Reinhold Friedrich and the recorder player Michala Petri; the double bass player Alois Posch from the Vienna Philharmonic; and several members of the Berlin Philharmonic. The list of names read like a veritable who's who of music, while members of the audience who glanced into the orchestra were sure to recognize one familiar face after another.

Music-making in a spirit of friendship
The Mahler Chamber Orchestra's decisive involvement in the project is bound up with the second idea on which the Lucerne Festival Orchestra is based, an idea that is rooted in turn in Claudio Abbado's long years of experience with youth orchestras. At an early date in his career - at Parma in 1962/3 - Abbado taught chamber music to comparatively large ensembles. His main aim was to encourage the young musicians to listen to each other, as this can have a decisive impact on their ensemble playing. Later Abbado wanted to bring this approach to bear on symphony orchestras, but his aims proved unrealizable within the framework of the fixed working practices and structures of existing orchestras, and so he set up the European Community Youth Orchestra in 1978. From this the Chamber Orchestra of Europe emerged in 1981. Five years later came the idea of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, which was additionally intended to be open to players from outside the European Union. In turn this produced the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in 1997.
Behind these activities lies Claudio Abbado's conviction that an orchestra is neither a company of soldiers commanded by a colonel nor a group of employees taking its orders from some super-manager. True, the conductor beats time and decides on the tempo and other details. But far more important for Abbado - and in this he has decisively changed the professional image of the conductor - is that he regards orchestral music-making as a form of chamber music on a larger scale (hence the need for a conductor). Orchestral players are not subordinates but partners, and their work together proceeds on the basis of friendship, not on the strength of commands. As a result, much of the preparatory work is left to the players themselves. In the case of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, the various sections worked together for two weeks under the guidance of their section leaders, and it was only in the final phase that the orchestra came together to rehearse with Abbado. This also explains why the two programmes on which the orchestra worked at the 2003 Lucerne Festival were complemented by a wide range of chamber music events.
If many concert- and opera-goers see orchestral musicians as employees with plenty of free time and the mentality of trades union members, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra's appearances at the 2003 festival were able to correct this view. Here the players were participants, rather than subordinates, producing the best possible results. This could be seen in the faces of the players, who exuded a degree of good spirits rarely found on these occasions. And it was no less clear from the enthusiasm of their conductor. Although Abbado was seventy and only recently recovered from a serious illness, he gave his all to the orchestra on a physical and emotional level. The mental energy that he is uniquely able to mobilize when the actual concert comes round, the intensity of his emotional response to the music and his ability to listen to the players and shape the music in the here and now - all this he radiated without holding back in the slightest. As a result listeners were able to hear an orchestra quite literally surpassing itself.
Peter Hagmann
(Translation: Stewart Spencer)