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Muti with New York: No Encore

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Riccardo Muti conducts,
The New York Philharmonic,
Verizon Hall, The Kimmel Center,
November 20, 2009

What does it mean when Philly’s favorite maestro finally makes the promised return only to leave without an encore? Riccardo Muti’s fans were at Verizon Hall to hear him with the New York Philharmonic Friday night. Old and young. Wistful Philadelphia Orchestra members, critics, the fair and the sycophants. The program was not the expected sizzzler. After waiting two years to hear him at the Kimmel Center (he called in with flu then shortly after kept his New York Phil assignments) were we wrong to expect some fireworks? Like the Avery Fisher Hall Martucci-Resphighi-Verdi thriller, Jan. 2007. Or the one with the Philadelphians at the Academy – remember The Pines of Rome!

No fireworks this time. Muti dove into Les Preludes, Liszt’s Symphonic Tone Poem, No. 3 as if he’d already gone to Chicago. Taut and steel and wicked-wonderful. Made me think of Barenboim (sorry, Riccardo). Since Liszt is a Barenboim trademarks like the Chicago Symphony, where Muti takes over in September. The Liszt was arresting, best of show: Phil Meyer led the horns. The brass blasted forth nearly as fine as Chicago in Verizon where the sounds at least in the parque came in and out of focus, nearly out of control, something this maestro had to find daunting to unacceptable.
The woodwinds have a wonder in young oboe principal Liang Wang. The mix of age is poignant reminder how symphony traditions matter, grow upon us, help us grow up. Seeing these New Yorkers on ‘our’ stage doesn’t feel right. Nor does this still flawed hall suit these players. It doesn’t suit this maestro either. Even the podium, with its high bar, didn’t flatter Muti’s stature.

The rest of the program dimmed the maestro’s lustre, big time. Bloody peculiar, to steal a phrase from the Brits, was the centerpiece: Elgar’s Concert Overture: In the South (Alassio) from 1904. Elgar and his wife took a holiday to Italy; it rained a lot. Then he found his inspiration (an image of Roman soldiers!) when the sun came out. The music has a Straussian bombast that doesn’t ring true. It shouldn’t. Elgar borrowed the opening tune from his earlier tribute to a dog.Dan Triumphant. When he lets go of the bluster, for lyricism things improve, In the South flows. Still: This is Elgar only Elgar fanatics will love. Something about The Muti’s reading had a hint of the maestro’s passion for Scriabin, too.

Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet, so fine, so beautiful, and disappointing. A terrific moment, the lightning quadruple fortissimo opening into The Montagues & Capulets, then the HUSH. Muti loves such extremes. He can control them. What he did not succeed in controlling was a mood of attention, of wonder. Sorrow, yes for Romeo and Juliet’s parting but little wonder.

If he gave us no encore, no doubt, he thought the concert didn’t live up to his standards. Whether he blamed it on the hall, the house (yes, coughing and some early applause before the final silence at Juliet’s Grave) his or their performance, moot points.
Muti’s given us riveting evenings, many times, many places. This wasn’t one. He knew it.
Maybe next time. With Chicago?

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Written by Lesley Valdes

November 23, 2009 at 4:14 pm

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