A RUSSIAN NIGHT
Piano Concerto No. 2
STRAVINSKY: Der Feuervogel · The Firebird
TCHAIKOVSKY: Der Sturm · The Tempest
Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Int. Release 01 Oct. 2009
DVD-VIDEO NTSC 0440 073 4530 6 GH
STEREO: PCM / SURROUND: DTS 5.1 · Picture Format: 16:9
Subtitles (Bonus): English/German/Spanish/Chinese
Live recording · Konzertmitschnitt
A production of EuroArts in co-production with ARTE, SRG SSR Bern
SF DRS and Lucerne Festival
Hélène Grimaud's Russian Night DVD – her first recording with Claudio Abbado
. . . that production values are very high here -- no surprise, as almost all of Abbado¿s recent Lucerne Festival DVDs have been superb -- the camera work stunning and the color and sound state of the art . . . Abbado has found a new maturity over the last years . . . and there is a new depth and richness to almost everything he conducts, from Beethoven to Mahler. This Tempest blazes with all of the wanton passion inherit in the score, and Abbado actually gives the work more than it deserves. Thrilling indeed . . . [Grimaud] takes more time with the piece, and allows its nascent romantic spirit full room to bloom . . . Her relaxed visual manner shows her comfort zone with the work to be quite high . . . [The Firebird] gets his Lucerne players (and what an orchestra!) to give their all in a rousing performance. This is easily recommended to anyone wanting a souvenir of a memorable night in Switzerland.
Grâce à la rondeur des cordes, la saveur des vents et la vision poétique du chef, le caractère féerique et la finesse de la texture orchestrale du ballet de Stravinsky sont idéalement traduits, sans mordant excessif. Une même sève puissante, une même beauté plastique parcourent "La Tempête" de Tchaïkovski . . . Il y a surtout, au c¿ur de cette soirée, le Concerto n° 2 de Rachmaninov, interprété avec sensibilité par Hélène Grimaud, que l'on retrouve ardente et inspirée, dans une interprétation où des éclairages quasi chambristes succèdent à des élans vertigineux. Rien de complaisant ni de sentimental dans cette version, mais une approche d'une grande logique, et d'une expressivité en accord avec la somptuosité de l'accompagnement orchestral.
When Claudio Abbado conducts the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, he feels, by his own admission, to be “among old friends" and has “the special sense of being back home". This familiarity is due above all to his close links with Lucerne, for it was here that he chose to revive the idea of an elite orchestra similar to the one formed by Arturo Toscanini for Lucerne Festival in 1938. The result was the Lucerne Festival Orchestra that Abbado helped to establish in 2003, drawing on a select band of hand-picked musicians and realizing his vision of an orchestra close to his ideal of an enlarged chamber ensemble: the nucleus of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra is the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, which is complemented by members of other international orchestras and by outstanding chamber musicians, with soloists of the calibre of Sabine Meyer, Wolfram Christ, Clemens Hagen and Reinhold Friedrich on the front desks. The orchestra's concertmaster (leader), Kolja Blacher, has sought to account for the uniqueness of an ensemble which, under its artistic director Claudio Abbado, is characterized by friendship and respect: “What is so special about our orchestra? We don't have to play together, we want to!"
During the summer of 2008 Claudio Abbado conducted a concert with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra that threw light on various facets of Russian life and music. Two works - Tchaikovsky's symphonic fantasia inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest and Stravinsky's concert suite from his fairytale ballet The Firebird - depict the dramatic struggle between the forces of good and evil and the ultimate triumph of the former. And Hélène Grimaud was the soloist in a performance of one of the classics of the late Romantic repertoire, Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto.
Hélène Grimaud and Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto
Rachmaninov's piano works have long featured in Hélène Grimaud's repertory. She devoted her very first recording to solo works of the Russian composer in July 1985, and his Second Piano Concerto of 190001 was the work with which she made her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Claudio Abbado in 1995. Since then this dark, soulful and “most Russian" of Rachmaninov's works has continued to haunt her: “It was love at first sight," Hélène Grimaud enthuses, even today. “Afterwards, it's true, I rather neglected the work, but that neglect was intentional because at one time I played it often." Today, however, the Second Piano Concerto again accompanies the pianist on her concert tours all over the world: “It's a work that is noble, pure and of very harmonious proportions, but it also involves a certain risk, because you must stay focused on the structure of the piece, on the line, and on the overarching form."
For Hélène Grimaud, to rehearse the concerto with Claudio Abbado at Lucerne Festival in August 2008 was, as she put it, “a dream". For her, the conductor is “a man of great depth and kindness, yet he also has a very special aura to him". His love of the music, the pianist goes on, communicates itself to the players and audience and fosters a wordless agreement between conductor and soloist. “You really don't need to speak or to translate an emotion or a sentiment into words", because Abbado himself already expresses all that is necessary. “You can read it all in his glance, in his face. There's a great clarity about it all, the way in which he conducts and his intentions are absolutely clear". It was also a stroke of good luck for Hélène Grimaud to work with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, “an orchestra that has a magnificent commitment to the music, one that has density and lightness at the same time". In this way, “pure music" could be produced in an atmosphere far removed from the usual routine of rehearsals. Perhaps it was the intensity of her work with Claudio Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra that ultimately helped Hélène Grimaud to approach the concerto afresh: “The piece continues to develop within you, even when you're not actively involved with it, so that when you return to it, it has clearly become a completely different work. That is always fascinating but sometimes more complex than developing a new relationship with a new piece."
The clash between good and evil: Tchaikovsky's symphonic fantasia The Tempest and Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird
The extent to which vivid characterization depends on orchestral playing that is alert, vital and at the same time subtly balanced with chamber-like translucency is clear from the three characters that inhabit Tchaikovsky's symphonic fantasia, The Tempest: the radiant lovers Miranda and Ferdinand and the monster of the darkness, Caliban. When the composer's patron, Nadezhda von Meck, first heard the work, which had received its triumphant first performance at a Russian Music Society concert in Moscow on 19 December 1873, she summed up its impact on her as “magnificent sounds, capable of filling the whole world and affording a person happiness, enjoyment and delight". With its atmospheric reminiscences of Wagner, its thrilling account of the sea and the storm and its lyrical love themes, The Tempest was long regarded as Tchaikovsky's best-loved concert work.
But the most striking demonstration of an orchestra casting aside all sense of routine was afforded by the final piece in Claudio Abbado's Russian programme, Stravinsky's The Firebird, a score that made its composer famous overnight when it was unveiled in Paris on 25 June 1910. Lucerne's listeners were regaled with pianissimos that grew more intense, the quieter they became. No less impressive were the subtlest transitions and shadings, which none the less emerged with the most thrilling sense of drama. For the performance in Lucerne, Claudio Abbado opted for a composite version of the score, taking over the sequence of movements from the second, five-movement concert suite of 1919 but eschewing the reduced orchestra of twenty players that Stravinsky, taking account of post-war shortages, envisaged for this second suite. With its sumptuous forces, this performance was entirely in the spirit of the programme as a whole: firmly rooted in the Russian tradition - after all, Stravinsky originally wrote the piece for the famous Ballets Russes. But the forces of good and evil confront one another in richly colourful and exotic sounds, forces embodied, on the one hand, by the young Prince Ivan, whom the liberated Firebird helps with a miraculous feather, and, on the other, by Kashchei, the prince of Hell. But perhaps Claudio Abbado's decision to opt for the full orchestral version was motivated simply by his desire to feel “among old friends".