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Berliner Philharmoniker/Claudio Abbado - The Last Concert
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 61 (excerpts)
(Overture 1826: Incidental music, Op. 61 1842/43) [40.11]
Deborah York (soprano); Stella Doufexis (mezzo)
Damen des Chores des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Symphonie fantastique (1830, revised 1831/32), Op. 14 [55.46]
Berliner Philharmoniker/Claudio Abbado
rec. live 18-19, 21 May 2013, Philharmonie, Berlin
Set includes 2 CDs; 1 Pure Audio Blu-ray Disc
Full details at end of review

This is a very special issue, a fact demonstrated by the lavish and rather splendid packaging. The scarlet hard covers enclose 2 CDs, a blu-ray video disc and a substantial booklet. The latter provides not only all the details regarding the music, but also excellent articles about Abbado and his years with the Berlin Philharmonic. There are also many photographs from those years – details given at the back of the book, along with the personnel of the orchestra in the recordings, which is a most welcome touch. So often, particularly in videos and DVDs, every single person is credited, right down to the lad who makes the tea for the cameramen – but the musicians themselves - don’t be silly, who wants to know who they are?

Right, got that off my chest. What about the music? The CDs first; both are of very high quality, and the recorded sound from a live concert is first-class; I should say live concerts, as the recording is an edit from three events, which somewhat undermines the title of this issue.

Of the two performances, the Symphonie Fantastique is for me the more desirable; there have been several outstanding performances of the Mendelssohn Midsummer Night’s Dream music over the last few years, most of them complete, as opposed to the selection of principal movements found here. We have the Overture, Scherzo and Nocturne, plus the glorious ‘Ye Spotted Snakes’, one of my very favourite pieces of Mendelssohn; but the atmospheric little ‘stings’ are missing. The two soloists, the Berlin-based English soprano Deborah York and German mezzo Stella Doufexis, sing stylishly; but if you want the complete music, go instead for Thomas Dausgaard on Bis, which features the outstanding soprano Camilla Tilling, or Seiji Ozawa on DG, with relevant chunks of Shakespeare’s text spoken by Dame Judi Dench.

The Symphonie Fantastique is quite another matter. This is a truly brilliant performance, which fully lives up to the wild imaginings of this great score. All the movements are superbly played, and I have never heard the finale done better. A couple of details will have to suffice; near the beginning of this ‘Witches’ Sabbath’, there are little ‘glissandi’ – downward slides – in the woodwind, which can sound wholly unconvincing. Not here – they simply add to the spookiness of this passage. Later on, the old plainsong ‘Dies Irae’ thunders in on tubas but it’s the way Abbado balances the repetition in his trombones and horns, that brilliantly realises the composer’s mimicking of mediaeval harmonised chant.

The DVDs are well worth watching to observe Abbado at work, drawing the best out of this great orchestra, without interfering or getting in the way. The bonus item, in which members of the orchestra talk about the Abbado years, is fascinating; the BPO’s principal flautist, cellist and harpist reflect on his rehearsal methods. After the authoritarian Karajan years these seemed shapeless, chaotic at first but they came to realise that Abbado saw everything as a collaboration, treated the musicians entirely as equals. Essentially he was making large-scale chamber music. That is surely the key to the wonderful intimacy that this exceptional musician brought to his interpretations.

There are two other bonus tracks; a well-made documentary film documents Abbado’s first year in the Berlin post, while the final track gives information about the Berlin Phil’s ‘digital concert hall’. For admirers of Claudio Abbado, of which there are countless thousands, this will be convincing testimony to the quality of his work and his personality. However, from a purely musical point of view, the contents are absolutely worth hearing/viewing for their own sake.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

Previous reviews: John Quinn and Michael Cookson

Full Contents
Berliner Philharmoniker - Claudio Abbado - The Last Concert
2 Compact Discs
CD 1
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (excerpts)
(Overture, Op. 21 1826: Incidental music, Op. 61 1842/43) [40.11]
Deborah York (soprano)
Stella Doufexis (mezzo)
Damen des Chores des Bayerischen Rundfunks
CD 2
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Symphonie fantastique
(1830, revised 1831/32) [55.46]
Berliner Philharmoniker/Claudio Abbado
rec. live 18-19, 21 May 2013, Philharmonie, Berlin
i) 2.0 LPCM Stereo, 24-bit/48 kHz
ii) 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio 24-bit/48 kHz
1 Pure Audio Blu-ray Disc
All recordings in lossless studio master quality as well as High Definition video
i) 2.0 LPCM Stereo, 24-bit/48 kHz
ii) 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio 24-bit/48 kHz
Running time: 96 minutes
Video of full concert
Picture: Full HD 1080/60i - 16.9
i) 2.0 LPCM Stereo, 24-bit/48 kHz
ii) 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio 24-bit/48 kHz
Running time: 107 mins
Bonus videos:
Video Direction: Daniel Finkernagel & Alexander Lück
i) Documentary: ‘Abbado in Berlin – The First Year’ - A film by Bob Eisenhardt, Susan Froemke and Peter Gelb [59.50]
ii) Members of the Berliner Philharmoniker Remember Claudio Abbado [15.36]
iii) Promotional feature: About Berliner Philharmoniker’s Digital Concert Hall (which is the Berliner Philharmoniker’s video streaming service) [01.28]
Running time of bonus content: [76.54]
Region code: ABC (worldwide)
Plus Download Code
For high resolution audio files of the entire album (24-bit/48 kHz)
Digital Concert Hall
7-Day Ticket for the Berliner Philharmoniker’s video streaming service



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