Posts Tagged ‘Riccardo Muti’

It seems that Riccardo Muti has decided to launch a campaign to make Italian concert repertoire more widely known by audiences throughout the world. I have seen an all-Italian-music concert in Japan and this evening half program was dedicated to Italian music – his calling card, the overture to Verdi’s La Forza del Destino and his fellow Neapolitan Martucci’s La Canzone dei Ricordi.

I have seen Muti play Verdi’s most famous overture more than once, but today’s performance featured truly intense playing from the Berliner Philharmoniker, scintillating strings and inspired solos by the woodwind soloists included. Martucci’s song cycle is a tougher cookie: one of those piece with immediately expressive atmosphere that seem nonetheless to be going nowhere. The orchestra offered exquisite sounds and Violeta Urmana was an ideal soloist – the tessitura is very favourable to her zwischenfach soprano, here at its creamiest, her Italian diction was crystal-clear and she added her customary elegance to these songs that really do not invite Puccinianisms. However, Berliners have already their opinion about what they like best and reserved their most enthusiastic applause for Schubert’s Symphony no.8, performed tonight at its most gutsy and exciting, with animated and astonishingly precise (if not necessarily apollonian) playing from the orchestra.

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Birgit Nilsson used to refer to Turandot as her “party role”, an opportunity to “relax”  from the enormous lenghts, psychological complexity and difficult harmonies of her signature Wagnerian and Straussian repertoire while still being able to dazzle the audience with her legendary vocal riches. When trying to produce an in-a-nutshell concept for the concert offered by the Wiener Philharmoniker in the Suntory Hall tonight I tend to gravitate around the idea of “party program” .

I personally bought this ticket because I was unable to find myself on for either the Haydn/Bruckner or the Haydn/Schubert concerts. But then I’ve started to think that there was a certain parallelism with the Chung/Filarmonica della Scala concert. Then we had a Milanese orchestra playing Viennese music, tonight there would be a Viennese orchestra playing Milanese music. From that point-of-view, I’ve started to find the concert quite promising.

I have never been particularly lucky in matching my schedule with the Vienna Philharmonic’s. I could see them only once (the second time the concert in Barcelona’s Palau de la Musica Catalana was rescheduled to an impossible day for me) at the Carnegie Hall in New York (with conductor Riccardo Muti). Then we had a more than enticing program – Mozart, Schubert and Richard Strauss. I have to confess that, while I write this, I remember it was not the earth-shattering experience I was hoping for – I found the Schubert and the Mozart a bit bureaucratic and only the immaculate rendition of Strauss’s marvelous orchestral effects in Tod und Verklärung saved the evening. In retrospective, I can say that tonight’s concert was far more interesting than the “traditional” one in New York.

Verdi’s most famous overture for an opera is without any shadow of doubt the one written for La Forza del Destino. It is widely performed as a concert piece (especially as an encore – for instance, that was the extra item in Chung’s concert two weeks ago). However, if one wants to surprise an audience with other example of Verdi’s mastery in symphonic writing, one would have to make some detective work. Maestro Muti found that the obscure overture to the opera Giovanna d’Arco would do the trick. It certainly highlighted the immaculate sound of the Vienna Philharmonic. The aural picture was studio-recording perfect – if something pierced out, you can bet it carried the Hauptstimme. Now if you ask me if the piece itself is something memorable, I won’t be able to tell.

The Verdian part of the program involved the lengthy “Four Seasons” ballet from Les Vêpres Siciliennes. If you had not made the acquaintance before, this is a piece where Verdi’s descriptive effects are remarkably creative if not necessarily inspiring after a while. What probably kept the orchestra’s animation was the Viennese twist that gave the triple-tempo dances sophisticated waltz-like fluctuation in tempo.

After the intermission, I had my first encounter with Nino Rota’s Concerto for trombone. Considering the limitations of that instrument, the whole piece is cleverly composed around rhythmic cells involving the kind of arpeggio-like  and repeated-note phrasing one would expect. The first movement gave me this Villa-Lobos-minus-the-sexiness impression. The slow movement is, to my ears, the most impressive, because it is always difficult to write a slow movement without lyric quality. Here Rota brings a certain melancholy that never builds into a soaring melody, but hits home anyway in its detached atmosphere. The orchestra’s second main trombonist, Ian Bousfield, could find the right touch of humour in the piece, particularly in the last movement, when the proceedings acquire a certain… I can’t avoid the word… Fellinianess.

To keep with the idea of Italian movies, the last piece was again Nino Rota’s Symphonic Orchestra Suite for Visconti’s Il Gattopardo. If you could make a collage of Mahler-ian and Puccini-an climaxes, than you would have something very close to Rota’s soundtrack. The Viennese certainly took the hint and played their hearts out – this was a showcase of lustrous string playing (with inspired oboe and clarinet solos to match). Although the music per se may lack the structural genius one expect in a great master, it certainly flattered the orchestra’s abilities. It would be a pity if this has not been recorded – I doubt Nino Rota’s music will ever receive such deluxe treatment again.

In order to keep up with passionate paroxysms, the encore piece was Puccini’s Intermezzo from Manon Lescaut. Here the take-no-hostages approach certainly payed off – the ferocity of accent, the evergrowing intensity. When you thought that these musicians could not go further, Muti could inspire them to exceed. I feel tempted to compare this with Giuseppe Sinopoli’s exemplary performance of this piece with the Philharmonia (in his complete recording), but the unpolished quality here was no representation of passion, but passion itself. This made me remember my friend Fernando, who considers himself Riccardo Muti’s biggest fan (I would be number two in our group) – this Intermezzo featured exactly the kind of music-making he reveres and the word “infernal” (which is his adjective to say something is extraordinarily good) would certainly be used here.

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