Claudio Abbado conducts Mahler's Symphony No. 5

Lucerne Festival 2004

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Program notes

At the Lucerne Festival, Abbado conducts a memorable performance of Mahler's Fifth Symphony.

It was Luchino Visconti who, with Death In Venice adapted from the short story by Thomas Mann, made the Fifth Symphony by Mahler famous by choosing the Adagietto to express the moods of the hero, Gustav von Alchenbach. And it is the same agonising, deathly climate that pervades in both works written ten years apart, just before the upheaval of the First World War (the Fifth Symphony was composed between 1901 and 1903, Death in Venice was written in 1913), as if the artists had intuited the disaster.

The background weighs heavily on the shoulders of the conductor who is preparing to conduct this work charged with grief. But although Claudio Abbado's shoulders are slender they are solid: this very Italian conductor, born in Milan in 1933, who was for fifteen years the director of the Scala and trained in Vienna with Hans Swarowsky, is extremely familiar with the culture of Central Europe, with its literature and its fine arts. It is with the Second Symphony by Mahler that he chooses to make his debut, at thirty-two, at the head of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Vienna and he gives the name of Gustav Mahler to the youth orchestra he founds in 1986.

Ever since, Abbado has continued to exhale the complex beauty of the Viennese composers' symphonies in all the concert halls of the world with the greatest orchestras. That evening in 2004 in Lucerne, in the concert hall designed by Jean Nouvel, it is the Fifth Symphony, the poisonous bloom in Mahler's bouquet, that the Italian conductor exposes to us with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. This orchestra holds within its ranks brilliant international soloists (among these are clarinettist Sabine Meyer, cellist Natalia Gutman, harpist Marie-Pierre Langamet and the members of the Hagen Quartet…) united under Abbado's baton for a memorable performance of the Fifth Symphony.

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