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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No.7 in E major (1883) [62:34]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37 (1800) [38:35]
Alfred Brendel (piano)
Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
rec. live, Concert Hall of the Culture and Convention Centre Lucerne, 10-12 August 2005
Picture: PAL 16:9 Anamorphic
Sound: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1
Region: 0 (Worldwide)
EUROARTS DVD 2054649 [106:00]

May I start by making a plea? No music, and certainly not music from the programme of a (classical) music DVD on the ‘Menu’ page. In his Reith lectures this year, Daniel Barenboim mentioned being forced to listen, in the elevator, to some tinned version of music he was due to conduct that same evening. Some orchestral tuning or hall ambience would do just fine. Having a choice chunk of Beethoven popping out like Nielsen’s underwear just as you are preparing to enjoy the whole concert on your nice new DVD is not much different to the great Mr. Barenboim’s lift experience, so, please, don’t…
This is, without doubt, a special recording of a very special bunch of musicians. The Lucerne Festival Orchestra is hand-picked each year, and in 2005 it included all four members of the Hagen Quartet, the second violins were led by Gerhard Schulz of the Alban Berg Quartet. Woodwinds included clarinettist Sabine Meyer and her entire Bläserensemble, the principal oboist of the Berlin Philharmonic Albrecht Meyer, and Jacques Zoon on first flute just to name but a few. An all-star cast isn’t always a guarantee of grand success, but in this case the entire orchestra shimmers with superior musicianship.
The technical aspects of the recording can easily be dealt with. There is no fuss or tricky camera work: this is a straightforwardly excellent registration of the concert. The auditorium camera zooms in on Brendel’s hands during the Beethoven, revealing plasters on each forefinger. Abbado isn’t as tall as I had thought – even on his podium his head barely pops over the top of the raised piano lid as the lens zeros in on the soloist. Orchestral solos are selected in the usual way throughout, showing all of the variety of concentrated intensity manifested by the various famous musicians present. It truly often seems like more of a chamber music experience than an orchestral one, and this is another of those aspects in this performance which makes it a cut above the usual. A nice touch is the backward sweep which gives a view from behind the violin’s desks at the back, giving you the feeling that you are sitting in the orchestra. Cameras raised in the balconies show the forests of strings in the Bruckner in all their glory, and there is a lovely ‘Sykes’ close-up of the bass tuba’s huge valves in action. All the while the great maestro Abbado shapes each phrase with lovingly expressive gestures. There is hardly a conventional beat to be seen (especially in the slow movements), but to the professional musician he is telling them all they need to know.
The Beethoven is a glorious reading, but I had the feeling that Abbado is getting closer to Klemperer in his tempi – especially in the first Allegro con brio movement, which comes over more ‘Andante’ at times. Don’t get me wrong, it works on its own terms and as a live performance it would have had all the drama and impact necessary to wow the Festival audience. Reading the booklet notes, I can’t help feeling that everyone is being just a little polite: ‘Abbado adopted an elastic and yet intense approach… producing textures that were trenchantly articulated and eloquent. “For all that it sounded powerful,” wrote the Neue Züricher Zeitung, “this was not achieved by means of titanic gestures but was shaped right down to the very last detail and as a result was filled with vibrant energy.”’ Brendel is on good form, and with the warmth and eloquence of both soloist and orchestra you can’t really go far wrong.
The main item is of course Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony. This is a beautifully rounded performance in every sense. From the silkily shimmering strings, through the superb woodwind solos and choruses and the full, mellow brass, the orchestra seems to have been put on the earth to play this piece alone, just as only one expanse of canvas was destined to carry Gericault’s ‘The Raft of the “Medusa.”’ Abbado doesn’t wallow in over-expansive tempi, and in fact his pacing of each movement reflects that ‘chamber music’ aspect of the musicianship on show, providing a momentum which makes the piece seem almost too short for the expressive qualities in both the playing and the music itself. As the booklet notes suggest, ‘it all seems utterly spontaneous,’ and as a result I for one felt as if I was almost hearing the piece for the first time. I’ve had my doubts as to my honest feelings about Bruckner, but in this case the jaw-dropping wonder of it all had me and all my ducts engaged and enthralled. Isn’t that what we’re all after – that feeling of renewal and joyous discovery? It is here, in spades.
Dominy Clements


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