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It’s not often that an all-star orchestra like the Lucerne
Festival Orchestra conceived by conductor Claudio Abbado
convenes to make music. When such an occasion occurs as
on this DVD, it is cause for celebration. On August 19, 2007,
a performance of Mahler’s “Third Symphony” was performed
and recorded live at the Culture and Convention Centre, as
a part of the Lucerne Festival. Claudio Abbado conducted
this work, and the event was released on the Medici Arts/
EuroArts label in 2008.

The Lucerne Festival Orchestra consists of distinguished
soloists and principal players from many of the world’s
best orchestras, as well as the Mahler Chamber Orchestra,
members of the Hagen Quartet, Alban Berg Quartet and
other ensembles. Suffice it to say that there certainly isn’t
much “dead wood” in this band! In addition, contralto
Anna Larsson and the female voices from the Arnold Schönberg
Chor and the Tolzer Knabenchor sang in the fourth
and fifth movements.

First of all, the playing and performance in general were
topnotch in virtually every, and I do mean EVERY respect.
The musicians were so in tune and so attentive to each other
that it was almost as if a piece of chamber music was being
performed, with an almost palpable sense of communal effort
toward an exalted goal.

Claudio Abbado was almost like a superfluous presence on
the podium; his purpose being to oversee the entire affair.
Of course, this wasn’t actually the case, since there WAS
an interpretation here. It’s just that everything seemed so
effortless that Abbado could just relax and have a good time!
His Mahler interpretations aren’t typified by overt gushing or
exaggerated pulling about of tempi, as is the case with many
conductors past and present. To me, he lets the music speak
for itself in a way that seems to be nearly ideal. I looked hard
for any flaws in this performance, and I came up blank. If I were
to quibble a bit, perhaps a bit more “testicularity” from the horns
might have been nice at times, such as in the opening of the
work, but that’s just me. Perhaps a slightly larger string section
would have also been nice, in keeping with the composer’s wishes.

Anna Larsson was superb in the fourth movement.  When she
sang her opening two words, I couldn’t believe how ideal her
voice sounded in this music set to Nietzsche’s text.  I’ve never
heard better.  The offstage posthorn solo in the third movement
was magical. Judging from the look of the instrument in the
hands of the player when he took a bow at the end, it was
a true posthorn, not the flugelhorn that is sometimes
substituted. I could go on and on, especially as this huge work
was filled with so many wonderful moments, but I won’t.

The camera work was also excellent, although I wish that
the basses and celli were shown in one of the march
sequences for those two sections of the orchestra, in the
first movement. They play in octaves throughout, but only
the celli were depicted. Again, a minor quibble, and the
only one which came to mind as far as camera work was
concerned. The recorded sound was excellent, capturing
the extremely wide dynamic range that was required by the score.

As with the performance of Mahler’s “Second Symphony,”
recorded four years earlier with the same forces and in the
same venue, this one needs to be seen by any Mahler
aficionado. It’s REALLY good!

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