Claudio Abbado (1933-2014) was one of the outstanding personalities in the history of the Berliner Philharmoniker. He made his debut with the orchestra in 1966 and was their chief conductor from 1990 to 2002. In May 2013, their unique partnership ended with Claudio Abbado's last concert with the orchestra – a “triumph”, in the words of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The programme included two of the most important works of musical Romanticism: Hector Berlioz's visionary Symphonie fantastique and Felix Mendelssohn's magical, shimmering music for A Midsummer Night's Dream. Audio and video recordings of this memorable evening are now being released in a hardcover luxury edition. The bonus material includes a historical documentary about Abbado's first year as chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker. In addition to extensive texts, the booklet contains numerous photos, some of which have never been published before.
It's a recording that just a few years ago would have been mainstream: a "name" pianist (albeit one much less well known in the U.S. than elsehwere), who has been playing Mozart's piano concertos since childhood, joins forces with a name conductor with whom she has frequently collaborated, leading a modern-instrument orchestra of some 70 players, with the results released on a major international-conglomerate label. Now it's distinctly unusual. But lo, there's value in the old ways. Portuguese-Brazilian pianist Maria-João Pires is a lifelong Mozart specialist, but she still has new things to say in two of Mozart's most popular piano concertos. You can chalk it up to her Buddhist outlook if you like: her readings of the Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major, K. 595, and Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466, might be described as detached without being lifeless. Her approach is most startling in the Piano Concerto No. 20, where her no-drama shaping of the material runs sharply counter to type. Sample the piano's entrance in the first movement, where it offers a twisting, tense elaboration of the main theme that is far removed from its source material. Generally pianists use this to raise the tension level, but Pires lets the unusually shaped, chromatic line speak for itself with fine effect.
Recorded live at a concert in the large hall of the Musikverein in Vienna in November 1991, this performance of Verdi’s dramatic Requiem is really commanding. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the chorus of the Vienna State Opera respond appropriately to Abbado’s exciting but not over-operatic handling of the work, and the recording is admirably clear. The soloists are a fine and well-matched quartet.
Fierrabras is a three-act German opera with spoken dialogue written by the composer Franz Schubert in 1823, to a libretto by Josef Kupelwieser, the general manager of the Theater am Kärntnertor (Vienna's Court Opera Theatre). Along with the earlier Alfonso und Estrella, composed in 1822, it marks Schubert's attempt to compose grand Romantic opera in German, departing from the Singspiel tradition.
Claudio Abbado and his hand-picked players of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra take their acclaimed Mahler cycle to a new level with this performance of the most complex and compelling of the symphonies, the intense, searching Ninth. Abbado brings all his renowned clarity of vision and the experience of a lifetime to this contradictory music – half valedictory, half life-affirming – and his “orchestra of soloists”, including some of the leading instrumentalists of our time, revels in the transparent textures and virtuosity of Mahler’s last completed symphony. “A rendition … of astonishing depth and subtlety” (Daily Telegraph).
Claudio Abbado was undeniably the supreme Mahler conductor of our time. With his Lucerne Festival Orchestra he has set new standards in the field of classical music, especially in the interpretation of works by Gustav Mahler. The core of the orchestra is provided by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, itself an élite body of players. Soloists like violinist Kolja Blacher, clarinettist Sabine Meyer, oboist Albrecht Mayer, violist Wolfram Christ, cellist Natalia Gutman, the Hagen Quartet and members of the Alban Berg Quartet to name just a few, make the Lucerne Festival Orchestra a star-studded ensemble.
Arguably Modest Mussorgsky's greatest work, Khovanshchina was incomplete at the time of his death and so this glorious production, from the Vienna State Opera, employs Shostakovich's scoring with the addition of the final chorus composed by Stravinsky in 1913. It is a work of immense power and humanity, set at the time when Peter the Great assumed power in Russia, a turning point in Russia's history when old forces came into conflict with new. Political intrigue, religious persecution, the tragedy of a nation, all form a backdrop against which individual dramas are acted out. The great Bulgarian bass, Nicolai Ghiaurov sings Prince Ivan Khovansky, the leader of the revolutionary Streltsys and Paata Burchuladze sings Dositheus, the leader of the Old Believers. Fellow Russians, including Ludmila Semtschuk as Marfa and Vladimir Atlantov as Khovansky's son, complete this formidable cast. This live recording of Alfred Kirchner's production of Khovanshchina is conducted by Claudio Abbado. Triumphantly hailed as "one of the great performances of our day, an unforgettable display of skill and sympathy combined", by the Financial Times, it is a recording to treasure.
In February 2001 the Berliner Philharmoniker and Claudio Abbado were guests at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome with all Beethoven symphonies. Their success was overwhelming with standing ovations after each performance. “Abbado, a Furtwängler admirer in principle, seems ever more Italian, his tauter lyricism allied to a sense of forward movement influenced, we are told, by period practice. The surprise is not the Mediterranean luminosity and scrupulous attention to instrumental detail - one expects nothing less from this source - but the animating sense of line. The Seventh Symphony… knows precisely where it's going and why… The sense of joy present throughout is overwhelming by the close.” - Gramophone Magazine.