Claudio Abbado’s Lucerne Mahler cycle is not complete, yet Euroarts
have already decided to reissue the DVDs on Blu-ray. The superior
sound and picture quality of the newer format is a given, but
I was impressed with what I heard and saw on Abbado’s DVD of
the Fourth Symphony and Rückert-Lieder – review.
Without exception, the handful of ballet, concert and opera
Blu-rays I own are visual and sonic treats, so it’s disappointing
to report that Euroarts have hit some snags with these Mahler
reissues. There were sound problems with the ‘Resurrection’
– now rectified – and the audio menus on the Blu-ray of the
Fourth were switched. As for the recently released Blu-ray box
set, the packaging indicates that Nos. 5 and 6 are in PCM stereo
only; in fact, they are in DTS HD Master Surround as well.
Abbado has recorded two Mahler Sevenths on CD, first in Chicago
and then in Berlin. Both are very desirable versions of this
symphony. Many will prefer the maestro’s later, more authoritative
account, but I have an enduring loyalty to the earlier one.
It’s hard to fathom why, other than to say the Chicago recording
has a warmth and affection that I don’t always hear from the
Berliners. And while both orchestras are in fine fettle, the
Lucerners are in another league entirely. Just sit back and
savour that strange ur-tune for tenor horn at the start
of the Adagio; has it ever sounded this arresting, this ear-prickingly
present? In a movement that’s apt to stutter and stumble Abbado
makes it sound so sure-footed, so goal-directed, and that augurs
well for the rest of this reading.
Camerawork is as discreet and unfussy as I’ve come to expect
from veteran director Michael Beyer; the picture is sharp and
colours true. Sonically, the brass are very well caught – the
trombones in particular – but timps are a tad boomy and cymbals
much too shy. Indeed, the sound on this Blu-ray – in PCM stereo
at least – strikes me as somewhat processed; not something I’ve
noticed on the DVDs. These quibbles aside, this is shaping up
to be a magnificent 7, Abbado visibly delighted at the end of
a riveting, momentous Adagio.
The chatter and call of the first Nachtmusik has seldom
seemed so atmospheric, the fell of night so tactile. Abbado
brings out every nuance in the score, that tripping little tune
beautifully articulated. There’s affection aplenty, but not
at the expense of detail and momentum; as for the deep brass
and sawing basses, they are tellingly conveyed, that series
of minor epiphanies culminating in a final gong shimmer that
will surely induce a sympathetic shiver or two. That said, the
central Scherzo is even weirder, every tic and convulsion highlighted
as never before. The sheer poise and precision of individual
sections and players is just remarkable – what a peerless band
If, like me, you’re easily distracted in the second Nachtmusik
this reading will come as a pleasant surprise. It’s another
of those left-field Mahler movements that can so easily be misjudged;
not here, Abbado alive to every small shift of hue and texture,
underlining just how astonishing this music really is. The guitar
and mandolin are easily heard and the movement passes all too
soon, buoyed by alert playing and sensible speeds. Only in the
orchestral swells does the sound lose focus; otherwise it’s
rich and sonorous, the horns especially splendid.
Pitched straight into the Rondo-Finale we’re given a taut, muscular
view of what often seems a rhetorical, undecided movement. In
between the attack of timps and bay of brass the dance-like
episodes are given a wonderful lilt. And like Burns’ Tam o’
Shanter and his trusty steed – pursued by witches and warlocks
– the music gallops across the drawbridge to triumph and safety.
It’s a bracing ride, greeted by a well-deserved roar of approval.
This is a mighty, long-shadowed Mahler Seventh; Abbado confronts
all its quirks and quiddities and persuades us this is how the
symphony should go. If only the sonics were up to the standards
of more recent Blu-rays this would be even more desirable. Still,
if I were to award stars for sound and performance – as one
of our rivals is wont to do – I’d happily give it 8/10.