WORKS: Mahler: Symphony No. 1 in D (Titan); Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C, Op. 26
PERFORMER: Yuja Wang (piano); Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Claudio Abbado (KKL Luzern Concert Hall, Lucerne Festival, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: 205 7968 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 picture format)
This is a concert of which I’m most proud and honoured to say ‘I was there’, at least for the Mahler First Symphony. As I wrote at the time, if the composer had died after writing this, you’d imagine – from Claudio Abbado’s performance with his good-looking once-a-year superband, at least – that his mission on earth was already perfected.
Skilful camerawork reinforces the five moments that instantly brought tears to my eyes: the two sudden emotional fillips just before the horns enter in close harmony during the opening and development sections of the first movement, the muted violins bringing in the lullaby at the heart of an incredible funeral procession – you can see Abbado conjuring the infinite diminuendo that leads into it – and the sudden blaze of brass ushering in the final ‘triumphal’ (horns standing for the most exhilarating symphonic conclusion imaginable).
Abbado’s rubato reaps wonders in the songs and country dances, but it’s in the finale that he dares most. No wonder the audience goes wild. The film rightly takes the ovation through to Abbado’s last appearance after the orchestra has left the platform.
Much was expected of young Yuja Wang’s Lucerne debut in the Prokofiev Third Concerto, but the shadow of Abbado’s one-time concerto partner Martha Argerich loomed too large: Wang has the lightness and the spring, but not the temperament nor a visible pleasure in teamwork.
What a pity we don’t get her two encores on the night I attended, the Danse Russe from Stravinsky’s Petrushka and a phenomenal Cziffra transcription of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee. No extras here either, but the Mahler is not to be missed. David Nice