Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Maestrissimo Claudio and crazy Anton
Here he is at the Festival Hall rehearsal, in one of four characteristically superb shots by Chris Christodoulou: Claudio Abbado, the greatest, with the score of one of the 19th century's weirdest symphonies, Bruckner's Fifth. Its wackiness can only seem the more pronounced in a performance of such freedom, suppleness and colour-consciousness as the one we got last night from Abbado's ever-flexible Lucerne Festival Orchestra on the Southbank: indeed, that made me wonder if there wasn't a case for going even further, totally over the top, because I nearly laughed out loud at several spots in the outer movements.
Just as well, anyway, because I can't take solemn, ponderous Bruckner interpretations. His individuality seems to me to lie in his riven quality, the way religious assurances always crumple. In the Fifth, the usually problematic (for me, again, I stress) Bruckner finale is replaced by a brilliant solution: first the clarinet's cheeky broom sweeping the old ideas away, then the tear-jerking brass chorale at the point when everything seems to have run out of steam. Abbado made no attempt to paper over the cracks, but he did pursue the chamber-musical quality that had been the chief virtue of the Schumann Piano Concerto in the first half.
As in a late Mozart concerto, Schumann's woodwind have as much of the glory as the soloist, and Mitsuko Uchida is too good a listener and collaborator not to let the fabulous Jacques Zoon and his fellow-flautist shine. The Lucerne Festival Orchestra has certainly got through first oboists - first Albrecht Mayer, then Kai Frombgen, now Lucas Marcias Navarro (wasn't there a Berlin veto thing which led to the calling upon the Concergebouw principal?) - but they're all the world's best and Marcias Navarro led the way with incredible projection last night.
If Mitsuko occasionally charged with just a hint of panic at the thicker flurries, her sensitivity and clarity of phrase-turn made it all worthwhile. And it was surely a lucky escape that Abbado had fallen out with the unmusical Helene Grimaud before the festival performances - what a substitute!
I'm coming to love most in Bruckner those twilight zones where only a handful of woodwind play. Again, Zoon had the dove's share of the best, supported only by two clarinets and bassoon at one point in the slow movement, sharing a chuckle with first violins where you really couldn't see the joins. That came in the Scherzo's trio, a Landlerish miracle as it dewily came across last night which I'd rather hear repeated than the whole damned outer portion: it's at points like this that I cry out inwardly for Mahler's constant evolution.
But Bruckner is what he is, and as Sibelius - another true original - pointed out, it may be messy, but it's always authentic. As was this interpretation (authentic, that is, never messy) from the greatest conductor-orchestra team of our time. Look at the photogenic players, who glowed and hugged each other with genuine warmth as they always do after every performance with Abbado.
Wish I could go again tonight, when Mozart's 'Haffner' Symphony replaces the Schumann, but, alas, I'm teaching - Bruckner 4, as it happens, in preparation for Belohlavek's BBC Symphony performance next week*. Less of a rush, deo gratias, than yesterday, where I biked in to meet the players of the Pacifica Quartet (more on them anon) in the Wigmore at 3, taught my Passenger class at the City Lit, whizzed back to the Wigmore to do the pre-performance talk with the Pacificas, then pedalled off to the Southbank. Only Abbado could have made me miss the first instalment of the PQ's Shostakovich cycle, but I'll catch the second on Thursday.
*later - ouch: my students reminded me it's tomorrow (Wednesday 12). Just as well they did as I'm supposed to be giving the pre-performance talk...Fortunately there's just enough time to prepare.