Recording of the Week Lucerne Festival Orchestra
The Lucerne Festival Orchestra is an ad hoc seasonal orchestra, based at the annual Lucerne Festival in Switzerland. The history of the orchestra dates back to Toscanini and 1938, but being ad hoc it has come and gone several times since then. The latest reincarnation came in 2003 at the instigation of Claudio Abbado.
The orchestra is hand-picked each year by Abbado from some of the cream of the Europe’s instrumentalists, including many soloists and chamber musicians. From the principals of the Berlin Philharmonic to the members of the Alban Berg Quartet, each summer they all gather and rehearse for 10 days and then perform at the festival. In 2006 they also began touring afterwards and this year made their proms debut in an outstanding performance of Mahler 3.
That performance (coming just a few days after those brilliant youngsters from Venezuela) attracted huge critical acclaim, described by Guardian critic Andrew Clements as ’perhaps the greatest orchestra I've ever heard’, and by Richard Morrison in the Times as ’one of the ad hoc wonders of the world’.
I think what makes the orchestra so outstanding is the transparency of textures and radiance of the sound. Abbado puts huge emphasis on the musicians listening to each other (as they would if they were in a string quartet) and this combined with such high calibre players results in performances of breathtaking beauty.
In the last few years a handful of live recordings have appeared on DVD and an excellent Mahler 2 on CD. They've also just released a CD of Bruckner 4 on their own label which had an excellent write up in the Guardian a few weeks ago. I've had quite a few enquiries about this and so we've managed to source it directly from the festival as they otherwise don't have any UK distribution. It is a bit more expensive than I would ideally like, but I've been listening to it all this week and I can tell you it is well worth it.