Saturday, 21 August 2010
Abbado Mahler 9 Lucerne live August 2010
Abbado looks older and frailer than usual, which may or may not give an edge to his performance. Mahler's Ninth Symphony is valedictory, even though the idea that it's obsessed with death has long been squashed. Mahler is looking back, for he's reached a kind of crossroads in his life.
Yet he's also looking forwards, into the unknown. That amazing finale, where the music soars ever upward, higher and higher, floating free, above petty concerns. The Ultimate Sublimation in music, perhaps, but I think, and perhaps Abbado thinks, it's life-affirming.
There's warmth in this symphony, even humour - the cheeky piccolo that cuts through the solemn brass, the lively whips of sound that enliven the long planes. In the second movement, Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers., the painfully nostalgic violin gives way to a build up to crazier forces. In this performance, the peasant dance was wild and wacky, sudden switches of mood, like fleet footed dance steps. A bit like fate, which throws the best laid plans. So nimble, in fact, that the TV camera didn't catch the violin's interjections at one point.
Focus on where the symphony is heading, because with Mahler, there's always a goal, which colours all that leads towards it. The last movement begins with strings alone, "the voice of the individual", unsupported and alone. In this performance, the strings were exquisitely dignified. At the beginning of a long journey, no need to rush. Many little Ruckblicks, reiterations of themes that have gone before, like memories. Muffled horns, a brace of oboes and restrained bassoon, just audible enough against the gossamer cloud of strings.
The Lucerne Festival Orchestra is exquisite, the finest musicians in Europe coming together because they know each other well and love working together. They're like extended family, and some are family, most of them so familiar it's like seeing old friends. Kolya! Sabine! you think, which adds an extra dimension to the experience. The intimacy shows in the playing - such coherence, such sensitivity, as if they're a huge chamber ensemble. These players have such fluent control, they hardly seem to be playing at all, as if the music was floating naturally out of them. Last year Bernard Haitink's Mahler 9th at the Proms with the LSO was wonderful, but the Lucerne Orchestra is simply in an altogether more elevated league .
Almost unbelievably luminous textures, such refinement that the music seems spun from light. Each new stage reached leads to another, even more rarified, like air in the Alps, the purer the higher you go. At the end, Abbado looked exhausted, like he'd been reaching the peaks in his soul. For a long time he stood silent. Suddenly his eyes opened wide in wonder. Throughout the symphony I could hardly breathe, so intent on "being" with the orchestra, so when the sounds ceased, it felt like extra bars existed beyond the score. No way was this Mahler's "final word". He leaves the music open ended, as if its floating on its own volition, beyond what mere mortals can hear.
Hopefully this concert will be broadcast again, on demand. In the meantime, there are DVDs of Abbado's Mahler at Lucerne to enjoy. Each performance is different, of course, and this one was specially moving because it's such a mature reading. Abbado and this orchestra go back a long way together, but this performance feels like theirs is a journey that won't end, even after the music stops. Irrational, perhaps, but since when did music this sublime have to be rational?
Please see my other pieces on Mahler, plenty on this site. Use search button or labels. There will be more, because it's Mahler year, but it would be hard to beat Abbado's Mahler/(though watch out for the coming Berliner Philharmoniker Mahler season. Many of the Berliners play at Lucerne). And listen to Eschenbach's Mahler series with the Orchestre de Paris online. PLEASE also see what I've just written about Abbado's Mahler 7 at Lucerne in 2005.