Thankfully Abbado left us a large heritage of recordings to remind us of his huge achievement. To add to this there will, no doubt, be more live recordings issued that will add to our appreciation of this great conductor, such as this present release.
These Lucerne Festival www.lucernefestival.ch recordings date from 1978 and 1988. The performance of Schubert’s Symphony No.8 (7) in B minor, D.759 ‘Unfinished’ with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra took place in the Kunsthaus, Lucerne on 5th September 1978.
There is a pensive opening to the Allegro moderato, taken at a moderate pace. When the main theme appears it too is taken at a surprisingly sedate pace, yet with a lovely flow. The dramatic outbursts are beautifully handled with Abbado bringing out a depth in Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ that is often missing in some blandly beautiful performances. The repeat of the opening adds a dark mysteriousness, with tragic overtones. Abbado brings so much drama, atmosphere and occasional darkness to this work. The Vienna Philharmonic is as fine as one would expect, delivering all that Abbado requires of them.
Abbado lightens the mood for the Andante con moto though he keeps a heavy tread. There is a magically conceived central section, slow and withdrawn, yet lightly textured. There are weighty outbursts, Beethovenian in character as well as some lovely wind passages. The second subject is full of a care and insight that reveals so many facets with a beautiful coda that is sensitively and exquisitely done.
For me this performance was nothing short of revelatory. The live analogue recording is nicely done and the applause is edited out.
Abbado returned to the Kunsthaus, Lucerne on 25th August 1988 for the two other works on this disc, though this time conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op.36 has some beautiful pacing in the Adagio molto brooding and with plenty of weight before the Allegro con brio arrives which really dashes ahead, with Abbado drawing some pretty taut playing, full of spirit and with beautifully controlled dynamics.
The Larghetto is beautifully shaped with fine clarity and great poise from the Chamber Orchestra of Europe before a lithe, rhythmically buoyant Scherzo. Allegro – Trio where the woodwind passages sound through the lovely chamber textures nicely.
Abbado hurtles straight into the Allegro molto with some terrifically turned phrases. There is a lovely sense of flow, with fine passages from the COE’s strings and Beethoven’s lovely woodwind finely pointed up. Their phrasing is superb whilst Abbado has them responding to every little dramatic twist and turn.
The recording is generally very fine though not with the widest and most detailed of soundstages. There is some audience noise but applause is edited out.
Finally we have Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll where, in the opening, Abbado keeps up the tempo by just the right degree, revealing lovely elements of this work. Abbado draws some exquisite rubato from the orchestra as well as some lovely slower passages with the COE’s horns occasionally adding a lovely touch. Abbado brings out some lovely details and, later, the orchestra’s wind section makes a glorious sound. How Abbado handles all the little surges of passion is remarkable and the coda is truly wonderful.
This is a Siegfried Idyll that should be heard. Again the applause is edited out.
This is a wonderful tribute to a much missed musician as well as an example of the treasures that the Lucerne Festival and Audite have in store.
Michael Haefliger, Executive and Artistic Director of the Lucerne Festival, provides a fitting tribute in the booklet notes together with a short essay ‘Claudio Abbado and Lucerne – a homage’ by Peter Hagmann.