Presto News - 20th January 2014
Claudio Abbado, 1933-2014
I arrived at work this morning to be met with the extremely sad news that Claudio Abbado, the great Italian maestro, has died at the age of 80. He had been ill for some time (having been diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2000), and yet his death comes as an enormous shock, and so I hope you will forgive me if my thoughts are somewhat more incoherent than usual.
It’s hard to know quite how to sum up adequately his career in such a short space: the roster of orchestras and institutions of which he was principal conductor is impressive indeed, including the London Symphony Orchestra from 1979 to 1988, and La Scala from 1968 to 1986. From the latter association he made several outstanding Verdi recordings in particular, including some of my favourite interpretations: Un ballo in maschera with Domingo and Ricciarelli, and extremely fine versions of Simon Boccanegra and Macbeth, both with Piero Cappuccilli in the title roles.
However, I think I can safely say that his most indelible partnership was as principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. He took over the role in 1989 from Herbert von Karajan (who had been in the position for over thirty years), and so to say that he had some pretty daunting shoes to fill is something of an understatement. I recall watching a documentary about Abbado’s first year in Berlin (unfortunately no longer available), and there seemed to be genuine enthusiasm from the players for the new life that Abbado was injecting into the orchestra. It’s easy to throw around clichéd terms such as ‘cultural ambassador’, and yet one mustn’t forget Abbado’s work in this area: 1989 was of course also the year in which the Berlin Wall came down, and part of the documentary shows how he brought over soloists from East Germany to come and perform concertos with the orchestra.
Latterly, he has conducted some thrilling recordings with Orchestra Mozart (including an extremely fine disc of violin concertos by Beethoven and Berg with Isabelle Faust, which I wrote about two years ago), and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, an ensemble consisting of players hand-picked by Abbado. As you can imagine, the quality of these performances is simply staggering, especially their concerts of Mahler symphonies. Unfortunately that particular cycle is not quite complete, as the performance of the Eighth Symphony which was due to take place in 2012 was cancelled and replaced with Mozart’s Requiem, but we can be grateful for stunning accounts of the other eight symphonies.
I only ever saw Abbado conduct live once, at a performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony at the BBC Proms back in 1996 with the Berlin Philharmonic, and the effect of that performance is still with me today: what a monumental sound he managed to coax from choir and orchestra alike. Fortunately, many of the fine symphony recordings he made are available in a 40-CD box entitled Claudio Abbado: The Symphony Edition. It’s such a treasure trove of great interpretations, including symphonies by Brahms, Mahler, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Bruckner, and others.
Also, if you want to find out more about Abbado himself, there’s a fascinating profile available on DVD called Hearing the Silence, in which he talks about his life and work, his conception of music, and his favourite compositions. It also has some rehearsal footage showing the great man at work. Finally, it was with Orchestra Mozart that he conducted what will now be his final recording, a disc of Mozart piano concertos with the always-sublime Martha Argerich. It is due out next month, and so I haven’t heard it yet, but I can only assume that it will show in abundance the combination of poise, grace, and enormous musicianship that Abbado displayed throughout his long and distinguished career.
I have linked below to some of the recordings I have mentioned, and you can also browse his full legacy of over 500 recordings here.
Claudio Abbado: The Symphony Edition
Berliner Philharmoniker; Wiener Philharmoniker; Chamber Orchestra of Europe; London Symphony Orchestra; Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 20 & 25
Martha Argerich (piano), Orchestra Mozart, Claudio Abbado
Verdi: Six Great Operas
Singers including Piero Cappuccilli, Plácido Domingo, Katia Ricciarelli, Leo Nucci, Bryn Terfel, Thomas Hampson, Mirella Freni, Shirley Verrett and many others.
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Mahler: Symphony No. 9 in D major (DVD)
Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado
Also available on blu-ray.
Claudio Abbado: Hearing the Silence (DVD)
James Longstaffe - email@example.com
20th January 2014
Berg: Lyric Suite & Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht
Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello, direction), Ensemble Resonanz
From 2010 until 2013, Jean-Guihen Queyras was Artist in Residence with Ensemble Resonanz. This disc is the first recording of the arrangement for string ensemble of movements I, V and VI of Berg's Lyric Suite.
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Volume 3
Jonathan Biss (piano)
Volume 3 of Jonathan Biss’s acclaimed cycle of Beethoven's piano sonatas contains two works from 1801 - op. 28 Pastorale and the somewhat overlooked op. 31/1. The third sonata on this disc is one of the most famous - the Waldstein, composed in 1803, and is a work of life-affirming spirit and energy.
Vivaldi - Concerti per archi II
Mauro Lopez Ferreira, Nicholas Robinson (violins), Ettore Belli (viola), Diego Roncalli (cello), Luca Cola (double bass), Craig Marchitelli (theorbo), Concerto Italiano, Rinaldo Alessandrini
Following a very successful first volume, released in 2004, Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano offer a second instalment of Vivaldi's concertos for strings, a very special genre in the composer's output.
New World Quartets
The Brodsky Quartet presents a programme of works exploring an American sound in the string quartet. The earliest piece on the disc is the American String Quartet by Dvořák, the only non-American composer in the release. In the String Quartet by Samuel Barber we hear an unashamedly romantic composer displaying a more European style. The central Adagio has become enormously popular in an arrangement for string orchestra.
Tavener: Eternity's Sunrise
Andrew Manze (violin), Patricia Rozario & Julia Gooding (sopranos), George Mosley (baritone), The Academy of Ancient Music, Paul Goodwin
Eternity's Sunrise, using text by William Blake, was commissioned by The Academy of Ancient Music on the occasion of its 25th anniversary, and is written for soprano (representing earth), handbells (representing angels), and baroque ensemble (representing heaven).
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa: Opera Arias
Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano)
Combining rare acting ability with peerless lyricism and radiance of tone, Kiri Te Kanawa is one of opera’s most celebrated contemporary figures. This four-disc set presents a selection of her favourite roles and art songs; drawing on music of the 19th and 20th centuries, it includes some of the acclaimed soprano’s most famous character portrayals and offers a tantalising glimpse of operatic might-have-beens.
Bernard Haitink: The Symphony Edition
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Haitink
Bernard Haitink will be 85 on the 4th of March, 2014, and this 36-CD set presents six complete symphonic cycles by Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, Schumann and Tchaikovsky, all performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Haitink made his debut with the Concertgebouw Orchestra on 7 November 1956, and from 1963 he was their Principal Conductor, a position he held for 25 years.
Rimsky Korsakov: The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia
Svetlana Ignatovich (Fevroniya), John Daszak (Grishka Kuterma), Vladimir Vaneev (Prince Yuriy Vsevolodovich), Maxim Aksenov (Prince Vsevolod Yuryevich), Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Marc Albrecht (conductor)
Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera is a fanciful fairytale, yet at the same time a parable on repression and political conceit. The peasant girl Fevroniya’s prayer that the city of Kitezh becomes invisible, thus protecting it from Tatar attack, is magically heeded. The girl herself, however, is captured by the invaders.
Blu-ray version also available here
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