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Yesterday was Gustav Mahler’s birthday (1860-1911),
and I recently watched yet another performance on
DVD by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in their
acclaimed Mahler cycle, under the baton of
Claudio Abbado. In this instance, it was the
composer’s “Ninth Symphony,” recorded at the
KKL Luzern Concert Hall during August 2010.

Frankly, I’ve run out of superlatives when
discussing this orchestra and their performances.
To reiterate my views, this is a group of hand-picked
musicians that are seemingly united in their
purpose of making the best possible music. As usual,
a large contingent of strings was used; however,
their precision and sensitivity belied their size.
The dynamic range they achieved with the rest of
the orchestra must be heard to be believed. Naturally,
since this is a recording, kudos must also be given
to the excellent recording team.

The interpretation of this symphony was wonderful.
I won’t play the “comparison game” here, because
there are numerous interpretive possibilities
available. For example, there are those who might
prefer Leonard Bernstein’s famous performance
with the Vienna Philharmonic from the early 1970’s.
If I watched it again, I might be one of those people.
However, I believe that it is a testament to the
greatness of this work that it can flourish in different
interpretations; therefore, as I said, I won’t go there.
But from a purely technical standpoint, I can’t
imagine a better performance than the one given
here by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. As an
example, you can just check out the extreme
control exhibited by the strings in the last few
passages of the score. Before the audience erupted
in applause, the end of this performance was
punctuated with a few minutes of respectful silence.

Nevertheless, I do have a quibble with the
otherwise fine camera work, and believe that in
this case, the woodwinds were slighted. Instead of
depicting the four or five woodwind players in each
section on stage, it appeared to me that only the
first two or three members of each of the four
sections received closeup shots. I believe that
the viewer needs to be aware of the number of
players  in each section!

Putting that caveat aside, this DVD release
under the Accentus Music label (a new
collaboration for this orchestra) is an obvious
winner, and simply must be watched by those
who appreciate fine orchestral playing.

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