A Russian Night – Claudio Abbado conducting Lucerne Festival Orchestra

by | Jan 21, 2010 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

A Russian Night – Claudio Abbado, conducting

Program: TCHAIKOVSKY: The Tempest, Op. 18; RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No. 2 in c, Op. 18; STRAVINSKY: The Firebird (Concert Suite 1919)
Performers: Helene Grimaud, piano/ Lucerne Festival Orchestra/ Claudio Abbado, conductor
Director:  Michael Beyer
Studio: EuroArts 00440 073 4530 [Distrib. by Naxos]
Video: 16:9 color widescreen
Audio: PCM Stereo; DTS 5.1 surround
All Regions
Extras: Interview with Helene Grimaud
Length: 80 minutes (concert); 5 minutes (extras)
Rating: ****

Though Helene Grimaud has played with Abbado before, she has never recorded with him, nor has she made a concert DVD before, so this release reflects two “firsts” for her. Let me say right off the bat that production values are very high here—no surprise, as almost all of Abbado’s recent Lucerne Festival DVDs have been superb—the camera work stunning and the color and sound state of the art.

The program is another matter, with only a few concerns. Tchaikovsky, in my opinion, is not an Abbado forte. His complete set of the symphonies with the Chicago Symphony on Sony is one of the travesties of the catalog, a recorded legacy of how not to conduct the Russian. So I was a little fearful of The Tempest knowing how this conductor has approached the Russian before. I needn’t have worried—Abbado has found a new maturity over the last years since right before his illness, and there is a new depth and richness to almost everything he conducts, from Beethoven to Mahler. This Tempest blazes with all of the wanton passion inherit in the score, and Abbado actually gives the work more than it deserves. Thrilling indeed.

Grimaud (in the interview) says that she had gotten away from the Rach 2 in recent years, and was now discovering new things in it. I remember her Teldec recording with Vladimir Ashkenazy from 2001, and it left me cold; the recording was mismanaged also with some skewed balances. Things are greatly improved here, and Grimaud’s sabbatical from the work has proved beneficial. She takes more time with the piece, and allows its nascent romantic spirit full room to bloom. I wouldn’t trade it for Richter or Cliburn, but she does now have something to say whereas before I am not sure she did. Her relaxed visual manner shows her comfort zone with the work to be quite high. 

The Firebird is a known quantity if ever there was one, and if a work can be said to play itself, this is it. I can think of very few really bad performances of the piece. Abbado uses the 1919 concert suite to good effect, and while I don’t think him the ideal Stravinsky conductor, he gets his Lucerne players (and what an orchestra!) to give their all in a rousing performance.

This is easily recommended to anyone wanting a souvenir of a memorable night in Switzerland.

— Steven Ritter  

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