We were all waiting for this moment! First one concert was announced, then two, then three the Abbadiani could be nothing but delighted by these appearances of Claudio Abbado at the head of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in Ferrara and Reggio Emilia. The programme consisted of works by Berlioz, Shostakovich, Beethoven and Mahler. The small world of the Abbadiani thus gathered in Reggio Emilia to applaud the Maestro. The rehearsals (which sometimes turn out to be concerts in disguise) were meant for pupils and other associations (including the reintegration of former prisoners). Claudio Abbado’s endeavour to promote music is a permanent part of his activities. The rehearsals open to music students, the free concerts for school pupils or simply for the local inhabitants are a by now famous part of the pattern which accompanies any series of his concerts.
This is surely what makes any meeting exceptional, full of a meaning which often exceeds the plain act of hearing. This was the case in Ferrara when Claudio Abbado was handed the rainbow coloured flag of peace which accompanied the programme and seemed like a message: see, music is in the service of peace.
This time the Wanderer was in Reggio Emilia, in the beautiful Teatro Valli where Claudio Abbado has conducted regularly since 1962. The programme included Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder and the Rückert-Lieder as well as Beethoven’s 7th Symphony (one of Abbado’s best loved works).
The interpretation of Mahler Lieder depends largely on the voice that sings them. In the last years these were Matthias Goerne, Thomas Quasthoff, Anne Sofie von Otter, Waltraut Meier. We will remember for a long time to come the complete understanding between orchestra, conductor and Waltraut Meier in the Rückert-Lieder sung last year in Berlin and on tour. We will also always think of Thomas Quasthoff singing “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” in September 2001 shortly after attack on the Twin Towers.
Another singer, another orchestra, another moment in time: Anna Larsson, Mahler specialist, has a warm, round voice, an impeccable technique and a legato which provides her voice with great fluency. This voice does not project well (at least that was the impression the Wanderer got from his seat), but what we loose in drama we gain in lyricism.
It is clear that this voice suited the Kindertotenlieder perfectly, these terrible verses that describe the worst of all pains, that of the death of children. Transforming pain into music (here Rückert’s on the death of his children, there Mahler who does not cease to turn into music his own loss) is a major musical element. Mahler’s pain is a component that has always fascinated Abbado and now more than ever as he has repeatedly stressed the vital role music played in his recent struggle to regain health. Thus a real connection exists between the composer and his performer. It is sufficient to hear just the end of “In diesem Wetter...” and the incredible mosaic of sounds that Abbado manages to produce, somewhere in a no man’s land between music and silence. And how could anybody ever forget Abbado’s interpretation of Mahler’s 9th symphony with its end that sinks progressivley into nothingness.
The Rückert-Lieder are more metaphysical. These are texts that mark a turning point, the transition from one period to another and it was no coincidence that Abbado chose them for his last concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic. With Waltraut Meier the dramatic situation dominated, here was a break, painful, but intended and the evident bond between Abbado and Waltraut Meier had moved the Berlin audience. With Anna Larsson one sensed that a decision had already been taken, her vision is more melancolic. So here we heard a more serene interpretation.
Of all Beethoven symphonies the 7th is surely the one Abbado has conducted most. Or at least the one he has conducted at vital points of his artistic life. As such it joins Mahler’s 2nd Symphony . Claudio Abbado would surely deny having any preferences, but it is clearly visible that Mahler’s 2nd symphony and Beethoven’s 7th are related to deeply rooted aspects of his vision of music. The Wanderer will never forget the concert given on 15th April 2001 at Salzburg. Following an inexpressible “Emperor” played by Maurizio Pollini Beethoven’s 7th had shattered audience and musicians alike.
The Mahler Chamber Orchestra, composed of exceptional musicians dedicated to their founder, does not have the Berlin sound. Claudio Abbado adapted his interpretation to the orchestra. He digs into Beethoven’s baroque roots Händel and, even more so, Bach. In the last two movements he develops an incredible energy: nothing from the lessons of the first two movements is lost, but it is brougth into the service of an unbelievable dynamism and energy. Abbado manages to obtain from these young musicians what all of us thought he could only get from his Berlin orchestra. The symphony draws to its close in a dizzy, Dionysiac movement and prompts thunderous applaus.
Claudio Abbado offered us on that evening at the same time a summary of his art and a key to his present activities. The dialog Mahler-Beethoven is in reality a sort of dialectic. Beethoven, where vital energy and Dionysus’ rhythmic dance point to a definite will to live, as a reply to the melancolic vision of Mahler’s Lieder, where sufferance is sublimated by music. Thus is the path of Claudio Abbado retired from the frantic life of a star conductor, turned completely towards his inward self. But at the same time he draws his phenomenal energy from nothing but music for the simple reason that music is life, his life. This is what makes all Abbado concerts so exceptional these days: it is the deep personal stake that one senses, it is the feeling that music is being made to enable us to live, together.