Monday, 20 January 2014

R.I.P. Claudio Abbado, 1933-2014

One of the greatest conductors of the twentieth century - and after - has left us. Or perhaps it would have been better to have said, 'one of the greatest, most collegiate musicians'. For part of Claudio Abbado's greatness lay in his genius for encouragement, for enabling, for nurturing. (Think of the number of orchestras, especially those made up of young musicians, he founded!) He recoiled at the very idea of the martinet, rejecting the lamentable, dictatorial example of Toscanini for the humanism of Furtwängler. His 1980 Desert Island Discs spoke volumes: the latter's Tristan, Beethoven Ninth, and Bruckner Seventh, Klemperer's St Matthew Passion, Walter's Magic Flute and Mahler Ninth, Monteux conducting Debussy's Nocturnes, and Schubert's C major Quintet from Stern, Schneider, Casals, et al. Such collegiality, such a refusal to stamp his 'personality', even authority, upon music, naturally worked better in some repertoire than others, but it certainly should not be misunderstood as having led to any lack of precision, quite the contrary; rather, he enabled as opposed to compelled his fellow musicians to give their best - above all, to listen to each other as chamber musicians. Such an approach was very much rooted in the Italian Left, symbolised and exemplified by musical partnerships with colleagues - that word always seems so juste in Abbado's case - such as Luigi Nono and Maurizio Pollini. Nono's music stands in many ways as a similar case to Abbado's music-making, once one probes beneath the (sometimes) angry surface of the former. Both make demands of the listener; indeed, they demand a listener, someone who concentrates, who thinks, who differentiates, who wrings the exquisite from agony and vice versa, who believes in the dignities of man and music as one, as indivisible. Abbado conducted a vast array of music, from Monteverdi to Nono and beyond. He stood as one of the select few who could take one to Mozartian Elysium; just listen, for instance, to his Berlin recording of the Posthorn Serenade; no one, but no one, could surpass him in Berg. However, for me, at least today, it is his old comrade-in-arms who calls; and calls us to listen...





1 comment:

Anabaptist said...

The CBSO and Chorus performed Janacek's Glagolitic Mass at Salzburg a long time ago. The chorus sang from memory, which made a huge difference to the sound. (I was a member of the chorus back then, but wasn't able to do the Salzburg gig.) Abbado was in the audience, and told Rattle afterwards how impressive the choral singing had been. How, he wanted to know, could Birmingham afford to pay such a large chorus? He was incredulous when told it was an amateur chorus, and said he wished his Vienna State Opera Chorus had been there to hear it, as they would have learned a thing or two. Even I glowed with pride when told this, though I hadn't been there. Credit to Rattle. Even more credit to Simon Halsey (who should by now be Sir Simon). But what a lovely, supportive man was Abbado. His recording of the Gurrelieder is, in my opinion, the finest available.