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Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances Op 45 were likewise treated to a revelatory performance. Composed in 1940, this work is the composer's final original score. It is a dark, surprisingly rhythmically angular work. Within its pages the conservative Rachmaninoff (Tchaikovsky's obvious artistic heir) even makes some polite gestures in the direction of Stravinsky style modernism. Too often performances of this work are awash in overly lush orchestral textures. Abbado led a transparent performance that glowed in bright, lean sonorities. It was like hearing the work with new ears. The opening movement was paced tautly. Abbado's hard driving intensity was often spellbinding. The saxophone solo was taken at a brisk clip -- no mushy orchestral sound here. Abbado treated the Tempo di Valse as an ominous leitmotif rather than a perfumed interlude. The twilight aura of Ravel's La Valse was very much in Rachmaninoff's musical air. In less agile performances the finale often emerges as a diffuse musical letdown. Abbado's headlong urgency projected the sheer terror of this music. The composer's repeated use of the Dies Irae never sounded more foreboding. The orchestra responded to Abbado's orchestral wizardry with fierce precision, rapid fire attacks, and dynamic playing.

When a conductor makes the standard repertoire sound new, there is something to cheer about. Roberto Abbado brought artistic refinement, orchestral command, and remarkable musical intellect to two orchestral warhorses. A superb conductor!

Copyright © 20 December 2005 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA



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