Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, former musical director of La Scala, has died at the age of 80. [La Repubblica]
Yesterday in Lucerne at the KKL Diego Fasolis and his team dedicated their performance of Pergolesi´s Stabat Mater to the memory of Claudio Abbado. Jaroussky and Lezhneva ended with a overwhelmingly beautiful, otherwordly Quando corpus morietur, the final words paradisi gloria softly dying away. A fitting tribute to Claudio Abbad, requiescat in pace.
A musician’s musician. Not your typical “Maestro”, but a guy sharing his love and passion with other musicians. It’s so palpable on the famous Mahler 2nd with the then-new Lucerne Festival Orchestra. Natalia Gutman, the principal cellist back then, told me over quite a few vodkas that that was one of the finest musical experiences of her professional life. The 2nd movement semes to me to benefit the most from such an approach and IMO it is the best played version in the entire recorded canon
Besides Mahler, Abbado had a wide ranging repertoire, both chronologically and geographically. Better than anybody else, he seemed to know how to “re-invent” himself anew, focussing on different corners of the repetoire. He was always the wide-eyed adolescent, aflame with passion and sheer love for whatever he was doing. During his years of illness, he found the time and energy to establish three orchestral ensembles of the highest quality, the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, and the Mozart Orchestra (sadly disbanded). His proto-HIP recordings for Mozart, Bach and Pergolesi show a completely different grasp of this repertoire, an astonishing feat for an ageing maestro.
Nevertheless, his great “6” were Verdi, Rossini, Mussorgsky, Mendelssohn, Ravel and Mahler. For me, he failed to capture the essential melodic flow and charm of Mozart (except in his very last performances and recordings) and his Beethoven did not have the sense of struggle and victory that is IMO essential for this composer. But his Italian concerts with the BPO were rather special.
I’d thought about dedicating a clip for each composer of the Abbado 6. His Verdi was rather Urtext in recordings -- clean textured, pristine, without the come scritto pretensions of the grand Muti. With the La Scala he worked tirelessly over textures and weight of sound. His Macbeth brass never sounds like a simple town banda, as with most others. It has a chiaroscuro quality, rather like a Caravaggio painting. In live performance there was a tremendous frisson, absent in the studio, which made his Verdi in La Scala simply unforgettable and elemental.
But “his” Verdi piece is undoubtedly the Requiem, which IMO he understood and performed better than anybody else that I know of. His 3 commercial audio recordings have their quirks and casting / technical problems, but this is probably the best version ever preserved on any media :
For Mussorgsky, I searched endlessly for his beautiful BPO version of the Khovanshchina prelude, but it’s not online. So have these two beautiful choral pieces, The Destruction of Sennacherib, set to Byron’s famous poem:
and the Paganic Joshua (Iesus Navin), with the grand Yelena Zaremba
His tireless work for Rossini in the 70s-80s must be mentioned on any Abbado survey. He is partly responsible for Zedda’s outstanding critical editions, and the current re-appraisal of Rossini. One of the high points of Abbado’s career was the original Pesaro performance of Il Viaggo a Reims, and subsequent performances in Vienna, Berlin etc. Here is the delicious a-cappella piece for 14 singers
This is from Viennam 1988. 1:35:40
You are absolutely right about Rossini’s debt to Abbado. But looking at some of the excerpts you posted from Viaggio ( as well as some excerpts from “Rossini at Versailles” one can’t but think that Abbado was having the time of his life!
Sure wish the video of that historic Pesaro perfromance would be released commercially.
BTW a friend from Bologna reported that some young musicians brought their instruments (in cases) to the memorial last night. Something touching about that.
Perfect selection, CF. The Joshua clip also has the (uncredited) Benjamin Luxon chiming in as a favour to Abbado along with the magisterial Zaremba.
Interesting! It sounds like the entire bass section here
It’s just the line marked Basso solo c. 3’10”
I know. Aren’t you possibly referring to his earlier LSO recording on RCA? It definitely sounds to me like the entire bass section of the Prague Choir here
Abbado’s studio recording of Boris was widely criticized for its lack of punch and authentic Russian grittiness. But I think it is a beautiful, loving tribute. I got to know the score from this version and I was astounded here and again by how original and beautiful the music was. Not beautiful in a superficial way -- rather the beauty was deeply rooted in the truthfulness of the musical setting, the utter “rightness” of everything in it. That;s the thing which always strikes me about Mussorgsky -- how deeply honest he is, and the essential beauty of his musical thought. Later on the Vienna performance from Salzburg was possibly more ‘authentic’, but this sense of discovery makes the BPO studio recording very unique. And all the voices are absolutely gorgeous, up to the very smallest parts.
I never heard this studio Boris you mention but Abbado’s live performances of Mussorgsky were remarkably cohesive & completely involving for me -- I loved them -- it was precisely because he got beyond & underneath the ‘punch and authentic Russian[?] grittiness’ & right into the soul. Still my favorite performance of Khovanshchina. This Wien DVD came out after I got back from Russia and it was a revelation never matched.
It is indeed magisterial. I have both CD and DVD versions, with cast changes
BTW I do urge those of you who aren’t familiar with Mussorgsky’s choral pieces to try these two bocconcini. Somehow they strike me as absolutely original, despite Sennacherib’s overall obvious modelling on Rossini’s Kyrie from the Petite Messe Solennelle. I just did an all-russian program with the Rachmaninov All-Night Vigil, Taneyev songs etc, and the Sennacherib piece stood head and shoulders above everything. It sends shivers down one’s spine.
With Ravel, his 70s work with LSO is rather magical and sets a standard of lucidity and essential warmth hard to beat. This is an earlier recording with the BPO, a truly magical moment in musical history
As for Mendelssohn, this is simply one of the best CDs in my library, and Brannagh has unfailing musical sense and great timing for the last chords. SONY have shamelessly taken down this CD. It should be in every classical music lover’s collection.
And one last thing -- this beautiful photo taken during the Berlin sessions for the Ravel. Two beautiful, passionate people just embarking on a career of so much love and passion. They have enriched our world for many years.
Damn, that photo is hot!
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa’s tribute to Maestro Abbado
Nice to see that there’s still plenty of music on her piano (in this case, the songs of Puccini and Manon Lescaut).
Right now on ArteLiveWeb, from the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral: Gustavo Dudamel conducts The Berlioz Requiem, in memoriam Claudio Abbado:
Thank you so much oedipe, am listening/watching right now.
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