I can add little more to the Guardian obit now up, various blog posts and Arts Desk features - a joint tribute with Ed Seckerson being the latest - jammed with superlatives about Claudio Abbado, who has died surrounded by his family in Bologna at the age of 80. His Indian summer with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra yielded simply the best Mahler I've ever heard: I got myself out there on the strength of the Second Symphony on DVD, to be stunned first by the Seventh, later by the First; as for the Ninth, it was simply an out of body experience.
Likewise, surprisingly, Tchaikovsky's The Tempest in Rome with another super-orchestra made up of the Orchestra Mozart based in his home town of Bologna and the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. Abbado's Tchaikovsky Sixth with the Simon Bolivar then-still-Youth Orchestra in Lucerne was only part of a poleaxing programme. Bruckner Five at the Festival Hall didn't quite do it for me - blame my problems with the piece - but the preceding Schumann Piano Concerto with Mitsuko Uchida was one of THE great partnerships. Both concert photos here by the great Chris Christodoulou.
All the qualities which made these performances peerless I've ennumerated elsewhere, not least in the obit - strange to think it was begun before the Lucerne dream took wing - but I'll just recall a few more. Live, way back, Debussy and Tchaikovsky with the LSO, more recently, Brahms with the Berlin Phil. On CD, the early Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet and Chout excerpts, Verdi's Simon Boccanegra with a dream cast, a Wagner disc with Bryn Terfel.
Later: in the City Lit class, too swamped by Abbadiana to do justice to Tippett's King Priam, I put together a sequence, mostly operatic to suit the students:
Wagner, Prelude to Act 1 of Lohengrin Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (Arthaus Music DVD of the 1990 Vienna production)
Verdi, Prelude to Aida Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (DG CD, 1997)
Prokofiev: Dance with Mandolins from Romeo and Juliet and Final Dance from Chout London Symphony Orchestra (Decca CD, 1966)
Berg: Lulu Suite (first three movements) Anna Prohaska, Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra (Accentus Music DVD of 2010 Lucerne concert with encore: 'Ach, ich fühls' from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte). To my amazement, I see the entire performance is there on YouTube. It starts with the most blistering opener ever, 'The Adoration of Veles and Ala' launching Prokofiev's Scythian Suite, and ends with a great Tchaikovsky Pathétique. I remarked at the time that Abbado brought his own sound with him, especially in the beauty of the Berg, and that was especially evident when Dudamel took over the following night, good as he was.
Then there should have been something from the Rossini Il Viaggio a Reims, but time was short.
Finally, Mahler: Symphony No. 4 - third and fourth movements Juliane Banse, Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra (Medici Arts DVD of 2006 Vienna Musikverein concert).
And what could have been more appropriately bittersweet than that?
Anyway, I wish Abbado had recorded more Wagner - it's criminal that we don't have his Parsifal preserved for posterity - and my one great regret is that he never tackled the two Elgar symphonies, for which his own supreme gift of the most flexible rubato in the business would seem to have been made. Back now, anyway, to listen to the Mendelssohn A Midsummer Night's Dream music which he performed with the Berlin Philharmonic last year (friend Debbie was first soprano in 'Ye spotted snakes'). I was so looking forward to hearing the same with the Orchestra Mozart in Dresden's Frauenkirche this June; sadly it's not to be, but we've had our visions. Though we'll hugely miss him, there's nothing to regret: no-one lived a fuller life, one so much longer than illness would have led anyone to expect.