30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
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To categorize the nature of these two performances as similar to chamber music in style and sound is definitely not hyperbole. Not when the musicians in the Lucerne Festival Orchestra include the Hagen String Quartet, members of the Alban Berg String Quartet, clarinettist Sabine Meyer and her woodwind chamber ensemble Blaserensemble Sabine Meyer. There are assorted principal instrumentalists from the world's greatest orchestras, as well. It is a stunning collection of talent led by a gaunt but tanned Claudio Abbado, now 72 years old. He elicits subdued excellence from this assemblage: as if this orchestra is so convinced of its talent it has nothing to prove. There are no gratuitous grand gestures in either the Beethoven concerto or the Bruckner symphony. No bombast, even in the louder passages. The crescendos are played superbly but with restraint. This is confident music making.
Alfred Brendel, the great pianist whose reputation is for poetry and intelligence is provided an absolutely appropriate partner in the Beethoven. By emphasizing the lyrical serenity of Beethoven's score, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra establishes a real dialog with Brendel: allowing the pianist to shine by alternating Beethoven's louder public utterances with quieter, more introverted private musings. By maintaining this balance, it produces a reading that can truly be categorized as Olympian in its grandeur. This is one of the finest Beethoven Third Piano Concertos I've heard. In the Bruckner Seventh Symphony we hear a performance best categorized as Schubertian in its lyricism: with an almost Mozartian elegance in the first and second movements. Stentorian Wagnerisms are banished from the outer two movements, replaced by a lovely Viennese lilt. This without sacrificing Bruckner's powerful massed horns and strings that are his trademark "great blocks of sound". This is a superb performance that firmly establishes Abbado's reputation as a fine Brucknerian. Both performances are memorable and definitely worth owning.
This DVD was recorded live at the Concert Hall of the Culture and Convention Centre Lucerne on 10-12 August 2005. The picture format is 16:9 anamorphic widescreen. It appears to be recorded in high-definition. Sound formats are PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 Digital Surround Sound. All sound splendid with the surround providing greater spatial definition and ambiance. The hall provides a warm, natural sound. The region code is 1. Running time of the disc is 106 minutes.
A great live performance that is definitely worth serious consideration. Most strongly recommended.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
J Scott Morrison
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It's no secret that many people believe that Claudio Abbado, now back in reasonably good health after some health problems a few years ago, is one of the great conductors and possibly the greatest conductor currently before the public. I tend to agree with that assessment and treasure the one time I heard him conduct the Chicago Symphony as well as the growing number of CDs and especially DVDs that he has made with some of the world's great artists. The Lucerne Festival Orchestra is one that he fashioned from the members of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (a group he also founded) plus world-famous soloists like clarinetist Sabine Meyer, flutist Jacques Zoon, cellist Natalia Gutman, members of the Alban Berg and Hagen Quartets, and principals of some of the world's great orchestras like Kolja Blacher, concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, and horn Bruno Schneider, formerly of the Suisse Romande. This group plays like a large chamber ensemble and I can't tell you how important that is to the two works presented here.
The Third Beethoven Concerto, with the redoubtable Alfred Brendel as soloist, is played in a classic manner with impeccable ensemble, with a glowing but not glaring spotlight on the orchestral sections and principals as they converse with the Brendel. Brendel's approach is rather introverted in slight contrast to the orchestra's more outward commentary. This comes across more like a chamber music performance than a big public statement. Clearly this is at least partly the doing of Abbado. Every nuance is indicated by him and one can see him gently shaping dynamics and phrasing in a manner one might expect in, say, a string quartet or piano trio. The camera focuses for long periods on his conducting which I find extremely rewarding. Others have complained about the camera's lingering attention paid to Abbado's technique but I find I learn something with each succeeding release in this series of Abbado-led performances from Lucerne as well as his DVDs featuring the Mahler Jugendorchester and the Berlin Philharmonic. In this performance Brendel plays as to the manner born. His ability to combine technical aplomb with polish, grace and poetry is well-known and we are not let down in this 2005 performance. It is interesting to note that he still sports grubby Elastoplast (BandAid) bandages over the ends of some of his fingers; it doesn't seem to interfere with his playing one whit.
What I've indicated about the chamber-music approach in the Beethoven goes doubly for the Bruckner. Let's face it, this is a work which can sound bombastic, even bloated in the wrong hands. Here every effect is delicately shaped and although the sound of the orchestral tuttis is full, especially when the large brass section is in full cry, there is still a shapeliness that keeps the music, particularly in the Scherzo, from shouting or galumphing. One is almost tempted to say that this is Bruckner as it might be conducted by Boulez, except that there is a good deal more heart in this performance than one would imagine from Boulez. What I'm getting at is that there is a Boulezian clarity and logic coupled with heart-felt but not maudlin sentiment. This is a magnificent Seventh.
Videography, in the slickly modern concert hall of the new Lucerne Culture and Convention Centre, is excellent. Sound is state of the art. Options include PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 There are no extras except for some trailers.
Definitely recommended as are Abbado's other DVDs with these forces.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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This disc contains two fine performances of standard repertoire but with clear characteristics that set them apart from many of the competition.
The Beethoven concerto is the least surprising in so far as Brendel's approach to playing Beethoven has been honed over an entire working life and has been made familiar to collectors by recordings made at differing points in his career. Generally it would be fair to comment that his earlier recordings on Vox were somewhat livelier as befits a younger man and that his later performances have become more deeply thoughtful as befits a player of increasing maturity in age. However, Brendel has always been essentially a thoughtful pianist and these differences are more a matter of degree rather than type. Brendel has always been Brendel and recognisable as such. What we have here, with attentive support from Abbado and his excellent orchestra is a satisfying culmination of years of consideration unhindered by any technical consideration.
The Bruckner 7 is a quite different interpretation from the norm. There is an increased dynamic range downwards to increased pianissimos and variety of quiet and soft phrasing. This is, at times, almost akin to private conversations between instruments and instrumentalists. Abbado has put together an orchestra made up of players with experience in chamber music and who therefore have an enhanced sensitivity to such playing. This comes over strongly in this performance where individuality is more apparent than the usual imposing blocks of sound. Throughout Abbado keeps a gentle forward flowing tempo and the overall effect is one of enhanced sensitivity to phrasing rather than of architectural structures. This is more of an inspirational reading rather than an imposing one. I would suggest that this performance would be a fine alternative version to own in addition to the more robust alternatives available elsewhere.
The recording throughout is excellent with crisp HD imaging and wide ranging sound presented in DTS 5.1, DD 5.1 and stereo.
I have enjoyed this recording very much and would expect it to give much satisfaction to purchasers. On its own terms I would suggest this to be a 5 star issue whilst suggesting that, as regards the Bruckner, there are certainly other more robust ways of delivering equally satisfying interpretations.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
David M. Goldberg
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I was very hesitant about submitting this text, because there are already two superb reviews of this DVD on file (Mike Birman and Scott Morrison), and they reflect my own views in almost every respect. As they point out, Abbado has taken an approach that strips the superficial layers of vulgarity and bombast from this work to reveal the current of profound spirituality that lies underneath the sound and fury by which it is all too often concealed. He achieves his desired effects with a minimum of physical effort (a wise strategy given his obvious frailty). The Lucerne Festival Orchestra responds to his wishes as if by telepathy. The loudest crescendo is reduced to a whisper with a look as much as a gesture; volume and pace are switched up and down with the flick of a wrist or the flap of a palm. In the large-scale ensemble passages, the musicians have the cohesion of a single instrument. The score offers numerous solo opportunities for woodwind and occasionally brass; such gifts are seized with relish by these accomplished musicians and are the occasion for some of the most ravishing, delicate and haunting melodies in the entire symphonic repertoire. Perhaps it is this feature that persuaded one of the reviewers that he was actually listening to a chamber orchestra, but no such orchestra could have produced the cataclysm of sound with which Abbado brought the symphony to its close --- the brilliance of the brass contained and buffered by the luscious velvet of the strings, with each section giving its all. Many such climactic moments abound elsewhere in the score, but they are always handled with discretion and taste, and never permitted to drown out the true soul of this spiritual music. As with all these EuroArts products, the sound quality is exceptional and one has a choice of formats for viewing, but I found the picture quality less sharp than, for example, the Mahler recordings in this same hall, or the Beethoven Symphony cycle in Santa Cecilia and the Philharmonie. This is most apparent in the long shots framing the entire orchestra from the back of the hall; the blurring may be due to the enormous size of the orchestra that fills the large stage so completely that there isn't even room for a cat. The close-ups, by contrast, are very satisfactory although they tend to repeat the same favoured subjects and their instruments. I have a large collection of Bruckner on vinyl and CD, and have heard most of his symphonies more than once in the concert hall with some of the greatest orchestras and conductors on the planet. My difficulty up to now has been in deciding whether he was a fine third-rate or a mediocre second-class composer, but this performance persuades me that the proper task might be to figure out at what level he should be placed in the first rank. There are no arguments about Beethoven's place in the musical hierarchy, or of his 3rd piano concerto in the repertoire of that instrument. The issue here, and it is purely academic, is how this performance stack s up against its DVD competitors. There are two with which I am familiar: Ashkenazy with the LPO under Haitink, and Barenboim with the Berlin Staatskapelle Orchestra under Barenboim. The first is much older than the second, and the sound quality correlates inversely with the age. On the other hand, the venue for the second is a grim factory-like hall in Bochum (Ruhr) that does not compare with the elegance of the Royal Festival Hall (Ashkenazy) or the Lucerne Congress Centre, and while Barenboim turns in a wonderful keyboard performance (the best of the three in my opinion), I found his switching of roles rather disconcerting. Once more, Abbado does a fine job of conducting with minimal physical direction, and the orchestra responds admirably. As in the Bruckner, his volume amplitude is exceptionally wide: his fortes fulsome and his pianos hushed to the point where one sometimes has to strain to hear them. Brendel looks to be almost as frail as his colleague, but his playing shows no lack of vigour, and there is a mature appreciation of the score in his interpretation. Nevertheless I would pick Barenboim if I had to. I said that the choice was academic because the Bruckner is worth purchasing on its merits, and the concerto is in that context no more than a welcome bonus, whereas the Ashkenazy and Barenboim are included in 2-disc sets of the complete Beethoven piano concertos.
7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
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This DVD finally completes the availability of all five Beethoven Piano Concerti in this format. It is beautifully performed and should be in any Beethoven lover's library.