Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Abbado, Lucerne festival

Lucerne festival

There is no sound like the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in their partnership with conductor Claudio Abbado. The opening of their performance of Mahler's Sixth Symphony was a tempestuous march of almost unbelievable power.

There is something special about this ensemble. It is made up of players from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the band that Abbado founded with graduates from the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, augmented by some of the finest chamber musicians and orchestral players in the world. The cello section includes the cellist of the Alban Berg Quartet, and members of the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics swell the ranks.

The quality of the orchestra showed in every bar of their performance, as devastating a vision of this piece as it is possible to imagine. Abbado's genius was to reveal the subtlety of Mahler's huge structure as well as the expressive intensity of individual moments. When the main theme returned in the first movement, you could hear the way Mahler deliberately distorts his material, twisting these tunes into ghoulish new shapes and sonorities. The slow movement, which Abbado placed second, was an oasis of lyricism and calm, but the scherzo returned to the grimacing horrors of the first movement, setting the stage for the monumental drama of the finale. One of Mahler's most problematic movements was overwhelming here, from the fantastical sounds of the opening to the violence of the two hammer-blows at the climax.

Abbado and the Lucerne players made this tortured music nothing less than a battle for life against the forces of fate and death. In the music's final section, the orchestra roused itself to a brief vision of hope, before sinking back into defeat, signalled by a mocking brass fanfare and a hollow pizzicato. It was an extinguishing of ego that was both tragic and life-enhancing, a testament to the brilliance of Abbado's performance.

· The Lucerne festival continues until September 17. Details:


Tom Service

The GuardianTramp

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