Claudio Abbado: A Portrait

COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Bruckner,Mahler
LABELS: Arthaus
PERFORMER: with Berlin PO, CO of Europe & Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra


‘A comprehensive picture of an exceptional artist,’ says the booklet, but this 1996 film is a pretty standard TV documentary. It concentrates on Abbado’s work around that time with the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and we get the inevitable travelogue, as he arrives in Salzburg and Paris by car, or in Venice by vaporetto.

In the interview footage he comes across as an unassuming sort of chap, though several orchestral players say that he always gets his way in the end, and seeing him persuade Maria João Pires to change a crucial corner in a Beethoven piano concerto shows how his firm cajoling gets quick results. As Pires says, he has the maturity of a great musician, but has never lost the innocence of childhood (though how innocent is someone who decided he wanted to conduct at the age of seven?).


Nuggets of real insight such as this are fairly sparse, and the greatest interest comes from seeing him in rehearsal or performance, moulding the music with his hands and body. I’d rather have had more of that than the cameo appearances by Barenboim, Mehta and Boulez, or the final short feelgood sequence at his mountain home. Martin Cotton