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The Wanderer Chronicles - n°56: Lucerne 2011, Mozart - Bruckner (August 19th and 20th)
Abbado concerts, I keep on repeating it, always contain surprises. The concert of 19th August was no exception to the rule. A rather classical programme (Mozart, Bruckner), just modified a bit tomorrow when instead of the Haffner symphony Christine Schäfer will sing some Mozart arias, plus Bruckner’s 5th symphony. At the Salle Pleyel (8.10., for which there are still some tickets available) the Haffner and Bruckner are expected too. After having heard the concert I can only say: rush to the internet and be sure to secure yourself the last tickets. You will not regret it.
Last week’s programme was in connection with the night (the theme of this year’s festival). It was a melancholic night, whereas this one is more restless, both in joy and in doubt. The 35th symphony was composed after the serenade of the same name, designed to be played at the wedding of Sigmund Haffner’s daughter and became in 1782 a symphony to honour the ennoblement of Sigmund Haffner jr., who was Mozart’s age. Mozart was in Vienna, trying to forget Salzburg and at the same time saw the necessity, after the success of “Die Entführung aus dem Serail”, to write a brilliant piece. That turned out to be the Haffner symphony (KV 385). What strikes us most in Abbado’s vision is the extraordinary freshness of his approach. This is a young Mozart, full of life and wit. The orchestra follows this mad rhythm, particularly in the last movement which brings to mind the Dionysian finale of Beethoven’s 7th symphony (Mozart himself recommended to play as fast as possible). What strikes us most are the contrasts, the joyful violence of the sound. Once again this man of 78 brings us such a youthful interpretation.
Of course Bruckner’s 5th symphony (WAB 105, Nowak Edition) is in comparison much more agitated, full of contradictions and contrasts. We know that Bruckner was passing through a difficult period of his life. In our group of friends we discussed why Abbado likes this symphony which he has conducted several times, but which is often compared to a monumental but rather cold cathedral. It reminds us of a Gothic cathedral and above all of that pre-eminent church instrument: the organ. Many recordings, above all in the last movement, give priority to the sound of this instrument. The great organ in the Lucerne concert hall, inspired by the form of great cathedrals, was a particularly welcome setting for these Bruckner storms. We would love to hear Abbado conduct the 6th or the 8th symphony (after the 4th and the 7th a few years ago in this same hall and before the 1st next year, according to a rumour). The 5th, in comparison, seemed a bit too much expected. And, it must be said, the normal concert visitor, moulded by Gustav Mahler, has difficulty in adjusting to this music which is spectacular but sometimes repetitive and a bit boring (at least that is what is often said). Mahler has an immediacy that Bruckner does not. You really have to penetrate into this universe slowly for it to become more familiar. To begin with you perceive the repetitions: the adagio at the beginning of the 1st movement, hardly perceptible, with subtle pizzicato, returns in the 2nd movement as well as in the last, before the exposition of the themes. Bruckner said he wanted to enter slowly into the sound, before the essential theme breaks through. That is why we start with the celli, hardly audible, before the exposition of the brass and wind and before the exposition of the themes. Repetitive it may be, but it is never the same. The clarity of Abbado’s interpretation guides us through this complex architecture. He emphasizes some rough sounds, some unusual colours and he refuses other compact ones. Admittedly it is monumental, but never overwhelming.
The sublime adagio reminds us of the nocturnal atmosphere in the Brahms/Mahler programme. The scherzo is both vivacious and very analytical. The extraordinary soloists of the orchestra can never be praised enough: the brass led by Reinhold Friedrich and the horns by Alessio Allegrini. Once again one rests dumbfounded by the performance of the winds, the clarinet (Alessandro Carbonare), the oboe (Lucas Macias Navarro) and the flute (Jacques Zoon). When the last movement arrives (which takes up again the theme of the first) and develops it, we are indeed reminded of a cathedral. But of one from the 20th century by Le Corbusier or Mario Botta or (as we are in this hall) of a cathedral by Jean Nouvel. Why the 20th century? Because each tone, taken individually, is perceived as such before it blends itself with the others. Like this we hear dissonances, phrases at the limit of atonality which we had not expected in Bruckner. Thus the convictions with which we had entered the hall (Bruckner is massive, is repetitive) melt away. The urge to penetrate further into this universe comes over us. At the end the concentration is such that, after the radiant finale, the audience stays silent for a few significant seconds before granting the orchestra and its conductor the usual triumph.
Yes, do go to London, Paris or Baden-Baden, try to catch this extraordinary moment: only musicians devoted to their conductor are capable of giving what they gave. This orchestra is unique because Abbado is unique.
P.S. Yes, he is unique. A recent (non-Brucknerian) experience shows it. I listened on the radio to the Macbeth from Salzburg: average singers, a superficial Muti. A typical Salzburg production: rich and hollow. Unnecessary audition.
Then I listened once again to Abbado’s Macbeth and from the first bars onwards I was projected onto another planet. Make the most of the planet Abbado. He is one of the rare conductors today who creates a universe as soon as he lifts his baton. Planet Abbado: this is really the only suitable term.
Compared to the day before the first part of this concert was radically different although Mozart was still played. This was due to the fact that Christine Schäfer sung three Mozart arias. Rather melancholic ones which talk about lost love, abandonment, departure. Several remarks are necessary: the first half was an example of what an orchestral accompaniment really can be, what a dialogue between an orchestra and a soloist really stands for and what singing truly is.
The accompaniment was extraordinary, due to an orchestra which can retreat behind a soloist, which never drowns her - and that in a hall which I personally find difficult for the voice. (Other concerts have not always been very conclusive and even Elina Garanca or Magdalena Kozena, who have sung with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, did not really come out unscathed.) The dialogue reached its peak in the third song where the oboe (Lucas Macias Navarro, always him) and the soprano echo one another in a perfect duet. That is thanks to Ms Schäfer being a true singer and not just a product. Her voice is of modest quality, without anything to distinguish it and her rather reduced volume is no additional advantage. Yet: Christine Schäfer can breathe properly, she knows how to place her voice, how to control her breath, she knows how to pronounce her words properly and she can handle the high notes (she was a memorable Lulu). Those who remember her in Le Nozze di Figaro (she was a stunning Cherubino) or her Traviata know what a great artist she is. In other words, we were able to listen to a real lesson of singing and that part of the concert was of great quality.
As for Bruckner… Dangerous Abbado! He will end up making me like that composer. According to many in the audience this evening was even superior to the one before. I left thinking: fabulous, fabulous! The technical quality and the precision were, if at all possible, higher. We heard murmurs, hardly audible notes, distant echoes, a crystal clear clarity which exposed the architecture of the composition. Never were we allowed to be intoxicated by a melody. As soon as a musical phrase has found its rhythm, Bruckner brutally interrupts the melodious sound. The repetition is never a pure repetition but always a reconstruction. It is a permanent game of various settings, like numerous organ pipes (the organ, closed during the first half of the concert, was majestically open for the symphony). Let us also note the clarinet, in connection with but also as an echo to the flute and the oboe in the 1st movement, but also the adagio, phenomenal that evening (ah, the trumpet of Reinhold Friedrich!). In the scherzo the rhythms are accentuated and we pass from a colour which resembles the adagio to a sort of Ländler which is never grotesque (where as with Mahler…). The repeat of the 1st movement adagio introduces the 4th movement, with a slightly different casting of the double basses (ten!), the celli and the violas. Together they produce a beautiful sound which, needless to say, Bruckner interrupts: no pleasure for nothing! It is the same with the crescendo that precedes the final one and which seems to come to a conclusion without ever concluding. The real final crescendo is even bigger and varied, it seems to reach up to heaven. Magical!
Abbado displays this magical construction, he takes us by the hand (a rebellious hand in my case where Bruckner is concerned) and guides us through this sonorous visit. More than yesterday we are slowly forced to enter into a system which seems to resemble a construction in ruins, but of which every time we discover some more colours. I am not yet quite a convinced lover of Bruckner, but… yes, I would not mind listening to some more. I cannot wait for 6th and 8th October…
Needless to say this was a great success, standing ovations, shower of flowers from the abbadiani, as is the tradition on the last evening. In other words: the same procedure as every year – and nothing unusual when we are talking about Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.
Creation date : 20/08/2011 @ 03:22
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