Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Scythian Suite, Op. 20 (1914-15) [17:42]
Alban BERG (1885-1935) Symphonic Pieces from the opera Lulu (Lulu-Suite) (1934) [29:05]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Ach! Ich fühl's, es ist verschwunden, Pamina’s aria from Die Zauberflöte (1791) [3:03]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, (Pathétique) (1893) [45:34]
Anna Prohaska (soprano)
Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela/Claudio Abbado
rec. live, Lucerne Festival (Concert Hall of the Culture and Convention Center), Lucerne, 18-19 March 2010
Picture Format DVD: NTSC 16:9; Sound Formats DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1., DTS 5.1, PCM Stereo; Region Code: 0 (worldwide); Booklet notes: texts in German; Disc Format: DVD 9

To those who may be unaware, the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra is among the finest youth orchestras in the world. They have recorded extensively over the years, particularly for Deutsche Grammophon and Dorian. Founded in 1975, they offer a regular slate of concerts and concert tours and are led (since 1999) by the dynamic young conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who also holds the post of music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and who can be seen in the audience at the start of this concert.

Claudio Abbado has guest-conducted the orchestra many times and here leads them quite impressively in all works. The Prokofiev Scythian Suite is given a brisk reading: in Abbado’s Chicago Symphony recording from 1978 for DG, his tempos were much more mainstream, the whole clocking in at 20:38, compared with this performance’s 17:42. That’s a nearly three-minute difference, but the music still comes across well in this live effort, not least because of the youthful zest and talent of the Simon Bolivar players. Nothing sounds rushed here, only spirited and lively. Abbado’s CSO reading was powerful and detailed, and other performances, like the Dorati/Mercury from around 1960 and the Mata/Dorian from 1991 were also fine efforts. But this Scythian Suite, because it’s both an audio and video production, lets you see the vast orchestra - Prokofiev calls for 150 or more performers in the score - which includes nine players on percussion, two each on harp and celesta, and all kinds of reinforcements in the brass and string sections. It’s quite a sonic spectacular and a sight to behold, giving this already solid performance an added advantage over most others.

In the Berg Lulu Suite Abbado is once again very brisk: his 1970 DG recording with the London Symphony Orchestra clocked in at 33:49, compared with this one’s 29:05! The stopwatch doesn’t necessarily tell a great deal, but one can observe that Abbado has generally become faster over the years in works he regularly conducts. [There is in this recording a cut of two minutes in the first movement] Yet, his interpretations seem to have gained greater spirit, maybe even greater depth. This Lulu Suite is simply splendid, and again much of the credit must go to the Simon Bolivar players. Anna Prohaska, in her relatively small role here, turns in fine work too: her high notes are especially impressive and her shriek near the end is chilling and powerful. Her Mozart aria is fine too, if a little stiff.

The Tchaikovsky Sixth runs against Abbado’s tendency toward faster tempos: here he delivers the work with fairly mainstream pacing and, at 45:34, takes almost two minutes longer than his 1986 Chicago Symphony recording on DG. The first movement introduction is taken slowly, and the rest is paced quite judiciously. Some of the woodwinds play a little stiffly in delivering the exposition of the dark main theme, but the strings perform the famous sad theme with great feeling and melting beauty. The development section comes across with both fierceness and desperation. On the whole the first movement, then, is fully convincing, if not of transcendental quality.

The middle movements are played with spirit and accuracy, and the finale comes across with great feeling in its sense of resignation and loss. In the end, one must assess this as a fine account, but lacking that last bit of virtuosity and commitment heard on versions by Gergiev, Maazel, Ormandy and Bernstein - though one must disqualify his absurdly bloated 1986 version on DG. The sound on all works is good but a bit cushioned. The camera-work is excellent throughout.

Robert Cummings

A sonic spectacular and a sight to behold.