, Tuesday 14 August 2007
Tom Service
Beethoven: 9. Symphony, Lucerne, 10 August 2007
Lucerne FO/ Abbado Konzertsaal
There has never been a more radiantly lyrical performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony than Claudio Abbado's with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. The entry of the singers in the famous finale was the logical conclusion to the song-like intensity of the other three movements. Every phrase, every paragraph in Abbado's interpretation was integrated into a seamless symphonic flow. Even Beethoven's most violent moments, like the transformation of the opening theme halfway through the first movement, or the fearsome fanfare that opens the fourth, were part of a single emotional journey.

The sheer sonic beauty created by Abbado and his Lucerne players was breathtaking. And these players are, above all, his: this orchestra has come together for the last five summers in Lucerne, and is made up of Abbado's favourite musicians from orchestras and chamber ensembles all over the world, from the Berlin Philharmonic to the Alban Berg Quartet, with a core of players from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, another orchestra that Abbado founded. Yet their virtuosity is not so much in how they play, but how they listen to one another. The enormous musical line that connected the quivering protean murk of the symphony's opening to the blazing victory of the finale was a miracle made possible by the chamber-like intelligence of the whole orchestra's playing.

They are catalysed by Abbado's conducting, which, with its sweeping, liquid gestures, is not so much a series of directions as an expressive invitation to the musicians to come with him. It is an invitation that extends to the audience as well: in the slow third movement, the whole hall became part of an intoxicating musical reverie. But there is more to this orchestra than its technical brilliance. Near the end of this movement, after an affirmative trumpet tattoo, the music slipped into the shadows with ghostly, minor-key harmonies. It was a moment of real revelation, made all the more moving because of the fragile poetry of the Lucerne orchestra's strings. And for once in this piece, the quartet of soloists - including the outstanding tenor Jonas Kaufmann - matched the sensitivity and power of the orchestra and the Choir of Bavarian Radio, making the finale an overwhelming, all-encompassing experience.

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