MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D "Titan." Symphony No. 2 in C minor "Resurrection." Symphony No. 3 in D kminor "Nature." Symphony No. 4 in G. Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor. Symphony No. 6 in A minor "Tragic." Symphony No 7 in E minor "Song of the Night." Rückert-Lieder. PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No. 3
Eteri Gvazava, soprano; Anna Larsson, contralto (Symphony 2); Anna Larsson, contralto (Symphony 3); Magdalena Kozená, mezzo-soprano (Rückert-Lieder/Symphony 4); Yuja Wang, piano (Prokofiev)
Lucerne Festival Orch/Claudio Abbado, cond.
EUROARTS BLU RAY VIDEO GLN 4260051251561 (4 disks) TT: 610 min.

A respected classical music magazine recently featured a cover article entitled “Mahler, the new Beethoven”. Well, I don't know about that, but based on Blu-ray discs than there may be some truth to it. There are more Mahler Blu-Ray discs than there are of Beethoven! Of course, Wagner beats them both. To add to the Mahler feast, here is a major 4 disc release that recouples the highly acclaimed Claudio Abbado/Lucerne Frestival Orchestra's series of Mahler's Symphonies 1 through 7, plus a lovely Rueckert-Lieder with mezzo Magdaena Kozena. Also included, probably because it would fit, is a slightly less successful Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3 with Yula Wang. The cover, oddly, lists only symphonies 2 - 7, but No. 1 is there.

Abbado is a revered Mahler conductor topped by no one, possibly equaled in a few instances by Haitink, Bernstein, Tilson-Thomas and Boulez. This generous recoupling is not matched in performance level or picture quality on Blu-ray or DVD, and, with a price of less than $100, you have enough $$$ left over to buy the amazing new Abbado Mahler 9th on Accentus. The first 7 symphonies were released on Euroarts, by the esteemed team of producer Paul Smaczny and director Michael Beyer, both of whom have now joined Accentus, along with many members of the original production crew, so the recent Blu-ray of the Mahler 9th is on the new label. Let us hope Abbado will record the mighty Eighth and Das Lied von der Erde.

Almost all of this new boxed set apparently are remasters of the original releases with, in several instances, major improvements. Some are siginificantly improved visually (the first and second), and the sound on the much maligned "Resurrection" has been corrected to my complete satisfaction. And all are presented in DTS-HD Master Audio Surround Sound or surprizingly rich and full PCM 2.0 Stereo. And with the exception of the 4th, which has some problems in the surround version – it being created from the PCM 2.0 stereo version for some reason– sound from the Concert Hall of the Culture and Convention Centre of Lucerne has been spectacularly capotured. Besides the obvious improvements in picture quality because of the Blu-ray medium, the DTS-HD Master audio surround lossless (uncompressed) audio opens up the hall and makes the placement of individual instruments more precise. This is especially useful in enjoying some of the finer points in Abbado's masterful interpretations. Symphonies 1, 3,6 and 7 are demo quality, and the others are not far behind. The original issue of Symphony No. 4 had compromised audio. If you aren't happy with the DTS surround Symphony No. 4, just use the PCM 2.0 version and with your audio system create your own "surround sound.". And if you want a demo of dynamic range, try the 1st symphony. It ranges from the perfectly paced and untra soft beginning to climaxes of, well, extreme Mahlerian porportions, all vividly captured on Blu-Ray.

The very concept of an elite Festival Orchestra in Lucerne goes back to the early 1930's when Toscanini selected musicians and conducted them himself. It passed through subsequent years as the Swiss Festival Orchestra, and was finally revived by Abbado using personally selected soloists, and players he had favored from the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, also from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, which he had formed earlier. These players gave up summer vacations and took leaves from their home orchestras to perform with the maestro. It is so very obvious that the orchestra reveres Abbado. Do watch the final moments through the end credits of every performance. The orchestra actually smiles often during the performances and then hugs during the ovations which follow the last notes. Flowers are thrown, with total joy in the audience and on stage. You will often want to join in this love affair between orchestra, audience and conductor. Also watch for surprising members in the audience – Sir Simon Rattle, Mariss Jansons, etc.

Camerawork is fairly restrained. Panoramic shots of the orchestra and hall are rare; usually the camera follows the appropriate instrumental soloists and groups with plentiful views of the expressive Abbado. The conductor
appears more than a bit wan after his frightening brush with death in the early part of this century – he lost his stomach to cancer. But the look of total serenity, connection, emotion, and joy with what one must assume to be the triumph of his musical lifetime is truly sublime.

Included with the four discs is a handsome booklet of program notes (in English, German and French), and a half-dozen excellent pictures of Abbado and the orchestra.

These DVDs have previously been reviewed on this site. To refer to them, here are the links: SYMPHONY NO. 1, 4, SYMPHONY NO. 2, SYMPHONY NO. 5, SYMPHONY NO. 6.

L.R.M. (May 2011)