The Telegraph, Aug. 14 2007
Geoffrey Norris
Beethoven: 9. Symphony, Lucerne, 10 August 2007
Electrifying artistry: Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Geoffrey Norris reviews the Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Abbado at Lucerne Festival
Claudio Abbado, who is making an all-too-rare visit to London next week for a BBC Prom with his Lucerne Festival Orchestra, gave a powerful indicator of the level of artistry to expect in this elevating concert launching the Swiss festival's summer season.

At the Albert Hall he will be conducting Mahler's Third Symphony. Here in Lucerne it was Beethoven's Ninth, an interpretation of absorbing spiritual depth, intellectual lucidity and outstanding technical accomplishment.

The orchestra is handpicked by Abbado from the musicians he has worked closely with over the years, a good many being from his Mahler Chamber Orchestra but others coming from across and beyond Europe, together with members of both the Hagen and the Alban Berg String Quartets.

The collective pedigree could scarcely be more illustrious, and any qualms that the diversity of different performing traditions might result in disparities of orchestral sound were dispelled by its sheer richness of tonal blending, its dynamic colouring and its potent charge.

The immediately arresting aspect of this performance of Beethoven's Ninth was Abbado's ability to elicit from the strings that strange, equivocal sense of stillness and agitation in the opening bars. It was something that had the firm stamp of authority and insight.

As the symphony progressed, this sharp focus on musical and textural characterisation became a hallmark, be it in the way Abbado lightly pointed in the rhythms of the scherzo, coaxed out the violas in the broadly lyrical second theme of the second movement's adagio, or invested the cello tune of the finale with such quiet dignity.

And hearing his approach to the cello and double bass "recitatives" at the finale's start made one realise how flexible and speech-like they can be made to sound, with subtle shifts of stress. This was an ear-opening performance from the point of view of detail, but was also overwhelming both for its organic conception and for the intensity of orchestral ensemble.

When the soloists and chorus added an even fuller dimension to the finale, the effect was electrifying. The solo vocal quartet of Melanie Diener, Anna Larsson, Jonas Kaufmann and Reinhard Hagen was luminous, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Chorus (which will again be singing Beethoven's Ninth when Mariss Jansons conducts it at the Proms on August 30) was matchless in diction and projection. This was a performances that left one shattered and elated in equal measure.

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