Claudio Abbado / Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Claudio Abbado: The Last Concert

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This sumptuous package does not quite deliver what it advertises: the enclosed program, with Blu-ray video disc, was recorded over three nights at the Philharmonie in Berlin. It does, however, provide a fitting close to the career of Claudio Abbado, conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic from 1990 until May of 2013, when the music here was recorded. The lengthy booklet is almost worth the price of admission by itself, containing cogent reflections regarding how Abbado's regime differed from that of his autocratic predecessor, Herbert von Karajan, as well as a delightful survey of the shifting relationship between Felix Mendelssohn and Hector Berlioz, the composers of the two works on the program. The pairing of the music from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream (the overture plus excerpts from the incidental music) and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique is unusual but makes brilliant sense in terms of capturing diverse currents of Romantic music, and the 80-year-old Abbado was, true to form, finding new things in both works. Sample especially the "March to the Scaffold" from the Symphonie Fantastique (CD two, track four), where Abbado eschews the foot-tapping forward rhythms generally associated with the piece in favor of a more tumultuous reading that only initially seems less intense. In a nutshell, he diverts the listener's attention toward the inner state of Berlioz's protagonist rather than toward the external scene. The Symphonie Fantastique is dark and youthfully overwrought in general, and it's marvelous. There are also many fine moments in the Mendelssohn, where Abbado did not let the work's overfamiliarity worry him in the least; the gossamer overture got the concert off to a strong start, and it never really declined. The sound on the CD version is entirely clear, and available audiophile downloads promise an even richer experience. Strongly recommended.

Track Listing - Disc 3

Title/Composer Performer Time
Ein Sommernachtstraum Op. 61 (Excerpts)
1 12:06
2 4:47
3 4:14
4 3:59
5 5:46
6 4:56
7 4:26
Symphonie fantastique Op. 14
8 15:15
9 6:45
10 16:05
11 6:48
12 10:17
blue highlight denotes track pick