Magazine article Gramophone

A Parallel Story: A Mixed Bag from Abbado's Years of Recording for CBS and Sony

Magazine article Gramophone

A Parallel Story: A Mixed Bag from Abbado's Years of Recording for CBS and Sony

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Claudio Abbado--'Call me Claudio' is the title of Julia Spinola's essay in the booklet of this well-packaged box with original sleeves--may have attained international fame with a concert of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony at the 1967 Salzburg Festival, having probably made his debut on record five years previously as a harpsichordist in an otherwise forgettable Fonit Cetra LP of the Vivaldi/Bach Concerto for four harpsichords, but it was in the opera pit that his text-centred perfectionism first brought really distinctive results; not least in Simon Boccanegra, in harness to the Strehler production first staged at La Scala in 1971 and then toured internationally. Even then, he was cautious to work within his limits, and chose to make his Vienna State Opera debut with the same work, as late as 1984. The radio recording may not be kind to the singers but it allows us to hear and feel the Viennese strings sing, snap and contract at Abbado's coaxing, creating the drama as much as Renato Bruson and company on stage. The end of the Prologue is properly terrifying.

Much of what's here dates from the years when he was cutting an old-fashioned dash through London concert life, though the LSO themselves got slim pickings from the conductor's contracts with DG and others, as they later complained. Fiery discs of Rossini, Verdi and Mussorgsky make one wonder, in retrospect, how much record-company politics was involved in the clean and decent Tchaikovsky cycle he made with the Chicago SO. A highlight of the LSO years--the earliest recording here, dating from November 1976, though that's nowhere stated in the packaging--is the Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto with Lazar Berman in ruminative but imperious form, a Boris Godunov of a performance with a shaggy-dog cadenza.

Mussorgsky was an enduring passion for Abbado. Something of the rough-cut diamond he understood, and though it became a cliche years ago to discuss his politically engaged work with Pollini and Nono, Mussorgsky's operatic portraits of the desperate and destitute--those who think they have nothing left but faith, and maybe not even that--clearly moved him, as audiences in London, Milan and Salzburg will remember from his collaborations with Andrei Tarkovsky. The recorded legacy here is more complex: in efforts to get closer to the notes and the truth, the later Berlin remakes of Boris and miscellaneous excerpts polish the diamond, though the cast in the complete (four-act) Boris is mighty impressive, with Philip Langridge surely the most wheedling Shuisky on record. …

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