Lucerne Festival – Claudio Abbado = SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8, “Unfinished”; BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 2; WAGNER: Siegfried Idyll – Vienna Philharmonic Orch. (Schubert)/ Ch. Orch. of Europe/ Claudio Abbado – Audite

Lucerne Festival – Claudio Abbado = SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759 “Unfinished”; BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36; WAGNER: Siegfried Idyll  – Vienna Philharmonic Orch. (Schubert)/ Ch. Orch. of Europe/ Claudio Abbado – Audite 95.627, 77:44 (3/14/14) [Distr. by Naxos] ****: 

Prior to his death, conductor Claudio Abbado (1933-2014) approved for publication three live recordings as part of the “Lucerne Festival Historic Performances,” his having been associated with the Festival since 1966. The Schubert Unfinished Symphony performance (5 September 1978) reveals a Vienna Philharmonic whose sound and plodding tempos likely reverberate more from the influence of Karl Bohm than from the presence of literalist Abbado. The recording level seems a mite low, the string tremolandi at the opening of the Allegro moderato barely audible. The opulence of orchestra color emanates from the horns and winds; and, if acceptable, the inordinately slow tempo of the main melody. The big climaxes resound muscularly enough, but there reverberates little of what could clearly define a robust “personality.” The rhetorical strategies and progressions remain strictly conventional, and we simply love Schubert’s B Minor Symphony for itself.

The Beethoven D Major Symphony and the Wagner Siegfried Idyll (25 August 1988) demonstrate a more mature orchestra leader, one whose autonomy of spirit reigns over The Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Abbado’s hand-picked ensemble.  The reduced ensemble – with reduced vibrato in the strings – adds a clear, aggressive dimension to the Beethoven Second, urged by the composer’s metronome marks, excepting the palpably slow Larghetto movement. The other three movements exert a lively enthusiasm of spirit, the sound biting and acerbic, especially in the winds, brass and tympani. The first movement’s low string Mannheim rockets gain a new menace.   Beethoven’s accents and jarring sforzati sizzle with pungent aplomb. Once we accept the romantic indulgence in the admittedly lyrical pageant of the slow movement, the rest of the D Major Symphony performance shimmers with elastic brio of infectious alertness.

The 1870 Siegfried Idyll of Richard Wagner enjoys a grand leisure, commensurate with Brunnhilde’s “Ewig war ich” opening melody from Siegfried, Act III. The oboe brings a lullaby that resonates with sunrise associations. Abbado’s performance basks in a serenade atmosphere, an outdoors exhilaration that might harken (excepting the reduced vibrato) to a wonderful Bruno Walter realization of this most personal of all of Wagner’s instrumental scores. The French horns and twelve-measure trumpet do their respective parts admirably. At several points, the pedal and bariolage elements in the string writing anticipate Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht. The latter pages reveal a twilight sensibility, a valediction that forbids mourning. Wagner wanted the music to illuminate his son Siegfried’s bedroom, “Fide-Birdsong and Orange Sunrise,” that would forever celebrate and preserve the composer’s domestic life at Tribschen. Here, it commemorates a conductor’s blissful kinship with his orchestra.

—Gary Lemco

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