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Claude DEBUSSY (1862 - 1918)
Abbado in Lucerne: 2003

Suite from Le Martyr de Saint Sebastien (1911)
La Mer - three symphonic sketches (1905)
Rachel Harnisch and Eteri Gvazava (sopranos) and the Schweizer Kammerchor
Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Claudio Abbado.
recorded live in the Concert Hall of the Culture and Convention Centre, Lucerne, 14th August 2003. Video directed by Michael Beyer and produced by Paul Smaczny.
With documentary on the history of the Lucerne Festival and its orchestra.
EUROARTS DVD 2053469 [119.00]

Take the Hagen String Quartet, the Sabine Meyer Wind Ensemble, many of the first desk players of the Berlin Philharmonic, and fill the remainder out with young players from the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra and European Youth Orchestra and you have the potential for a superb ensemble. Finish off the mix by engaging Claudio Abbado as conductor in chief and the stage is set for a significant experience.

When I first watched this DVD I thought that the performance of Le Martyr de Saint Sebastien was excellent. However, nothing prepared me for the absolutely stunning performance of Debussy’s masterpiece, La Mer. Abbado has performed this work in the concert hall before, but I have never heard him conduct a performance like this. It tingles with excitement from start to finish, and the last movement conjures up the fury of the sea like no other performance I know.

His players are inspired to yield playing of superb quality and Abbado, looking much better than he did in the Beethoven Symphony series, but still not back to his former health, conducts the piece with an abandon that I have rarely heard from him. We are indeed lucky to have this concert preserved for us to enjoy repeatedly.

Lucerne had an orchestra before, but it was usually made up from players of top Swiss orchestras, engaged for the annual Festival. The festival was put on the map by conductors such as Furtwängler, Walter, Karajan, Fricsay, Kubelik and others. The contribution made to the Festival by its own orchestra dwindled to just a couple of concerts each year as the star conductors started to bring their own ensembles with them to participate. The most famous of these was Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, and it was this combination which assured that the Lucerne was put on the map as an international festival.

In 1998 the new Lucerne concert hall was opened and Abbado gave the inaugural concert there with the Berlin Philharmonic. The hall came about through artistic forethought and financial backing of the Lucerne authorities. The commitment was fantastic in this day and age (compare the British Government with its strategies and action plans backed up with nothing - is it any wonder that the state of music in this country is haemorrhaging?). This DVD celebrated the inaugural concert of the ensemble in its new home.

Not only was there to be a new hall; the Festival Committee resolved to create a new ensemble, specifically for the Festival. The plans that are in place for this ensemble are exciting: overseas tours, recording sessions, educational activities and the like. I can only wish them every success and urge you to see this superb DVD which has production qualities and sound quality to match the performances. Very highly recommended.

John Phillips


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