From the archives
Andrew Mcgregor offers a whistle-stop tour of Claudio Abbado’s remarkable Berlin Philharmonic recordings
Claudio Abbado & the Berliner Philharmoniker: The Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon
(DG 483 5183; 60 CDS) chronicles a remarkable relationship, beginning with Martha Argerich’s still thrilling 1967 Prokofiev and Ravel piano concertos – itself the start of a great partnership, as you can hear from their mercurial Tchaikovsky in 1994. The live Beethoven symphony cycle followed Abbado’s return from life-threatening illness. Concerts in Rome (except the Ninth, from Berlin a year earlier) offer a contrast to his mid-’80s Vienna cycle: lighter, more transparent, more athletic, thanks in part to Abbado’s reaction to current performance practice, and his wish to make chamber music with the orchestra. The result is a very distinctive sound of Abbado’s own. His Brahms cycle is superbly paced, beautifully balanced; and there’s also the Serenades, Alto Rhapsody, German Requiem and others, Piano Concertos with both Brendel and
Pollini (superb in the Second) and three accounts of the Violin Concerto, the pick of which is Gil Shaham. The live Berlin Mahler cycle only falls short in the emotionally undercooked Sixth, and the Second is missing completely – so just add Abbado’s Lucerne Festival Orchestra recording (or the entire Lucerne Mahler cycle for Abbado’s most miraculous late flowering). Abbado introduced interesting repertoire to the Berliners; don’t miss the Kurtág and Stockhausen, or Pollini playing the Schoenberg Concerto. Janácˇek’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared stars an eloquent Philip Langridge; there’s Mozart and Strauss with soprano Christina Schäfer, Karita Mattila’s Strauss songs. And then the Musorgsky disc, and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet – all treasurable.
Abbado’s instinct for Italian opera bore fruit in Berlin, from
Verdi Overtures to a superb complete Falstaff with Bryn Terfel, an account overflowing with wit and wisdom. Terfel’s Wagner recital is also immense, and the three live December Gala Concerts showcase the humanity of Abbado’s music-making, and the warmth with which it was received.
Transforming sound: Claudio Abbado reinvented the BPO