When Riccardo Muti stepped down from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra final season, after 13 years as its conductor, the ensemble promptly circled and named him music director emeritus for all times.
In a two-part season opener at Carnegie Corridor this week, it was simple to listen to why.
Below Muti, the Chicago Symphony is all energy and finesse with no unpleasant edges. On Wednesday, in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Mussorgsky’s “Footage at an Exhibition,” the orchestra’s enjoying, sturdy but nimble, drew on reserves of unforced energy and appeal. The next night time, in an Italian-themed assortment of programmatic works by Mendelssohn, Strauss and Philip Glass, a sure politesse crept into an in any other case stylish efficiency.
There’s no higher illustration of the orchestra’s may than the ultimate motion of the Mussorgsky, “The Nice Gate of Kyiv.” Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s pleasant piano suite reaches its apotheosis right here, and on Wednesday, Muti constructed an impressive edifice out of it, with crashing cymbals, all-out brasses and majestic strings. Utilizing an excessive financial system of gesture, he barely needed to transfer for the gamers to unleash torrents of stupendous, fantastically balanced sound.
On the threat of cliché, the ensemble’s exceptional cohesion seems like a sort of Midwestern humility, focusing consideration on the music as a substitute of particular person gamers. Tasteful instrumental solos, like that of the concertmaster Robert Chen in Strauss’s “Aus Italien,” didn’t disturb the musical cloth. Technical mastery emerged in what wasn’t there: The heavenly woodwinds have been airborne with out being breathy, and the visitor principal harp, Julia Coronelli, conveyed magnificence with out pluck within the Strauss and in Glass’s “The Triumph of the Octagon.” Muti’s dynamic mapping averted jolts or spikes; ardor and neatness coexisted.
His “Footage at an Exhibition” balanced theatricality and unity within the vividly drawn situations of Ravel’s orchestration. The primary “Promenade,” wherein Mussorgsky depicts himself wandering via the artwork present of his dearly departed buddy, the painter Viktor Hartmann, had a gracious, wide-footed gait. Timothy McAllister’s satiny alto saxophone wafted like a mist via the huge stone halls of “The Previous Citadel.” “Tuileries” traded the unseemly lilt of whining youngsters for a singsong high quality. “The Hut on Hen’s Legs” lurched with scrumptious, brutal violence. Muti interpreted the rating’s attacca markings (indicating that the actions needs to be performed with out pause) as seamless transitions as a substitute of alternatives for shock.
The orchestra’s plush energy within the Tchaikovsky evoked the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove, so it’s a disgrace that the night’s soloist, Leonidas Kavakos, derailed the efficiency with curdled tone, sloppy passagework, cracked excessive notes and tuning points. There have been fairly turns of phrase within the second motion, and Kavakos might conceal his unpolished sound within the guttural character of the third. For a performer of a usually excessive caliber, although, it was a shabby exhibiting.
Glass’s “The Triumph of the Octagon,” devoted to Muti, opened the second night time. It’s a 10-minute piece impressed by a photograph of a Thirteenth-century Italian fort that Glass noticed hanging within the maestro’s studio at Orchestra Corridor in Chicago, a reminiscence from Muti’s childhood. The music step by step amassed a mysterious timelessness with the shifting emphases of its time signatures and the fragile deployment of woodwind timbres.
Muti averted any inkling of stridency within the dashing opening of Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony, which rushed ahead with grace and buoyancy. Melodies intertwined delicately within the Andante. The perpetual movement of the third motion felt unobstructed but additionally unhurried; the strings performed throughout phrases and left them hanging within the air, and the brasses have been unafraid to imagine a blanched colour to keep up the motion’s specific tint.
The elegant ardour on show within the Mendelssohn hampered the gamers within the Strauss, his first tone poem, a bit that wraps collectively photographs of Italy with the swooning ecstasies they arouse. Nonetheless, some passages are recognizably pictorial, such because the third motion’s suggestion of the shores of Sorrento, with the dappling of the solar on the floor of the ocean rendered in shimmery chromaticism. There, the orchestra was fairly enchanting, however within the second motion, it lacked punch. Too usually, Strauss’s impetuous reveries have been flattened right into a predictable sameness.
A more true sense of romance and spontaneity could possibly be discovered within the encores on each evenings. They have been drawn from Italian opera, a specialty of Muti, who was the longtime music director of Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Following the adrenaline rush of “The Nice Gate of Kyiv,” Muti struck up the intermezzo from Giordano’s “Fedora” with seductive vulnerability.
On the second night time, the overture to Verdi’s “Giovanna d’Arco” had all the pieces the Strauss didn’t: crackling power and a way of reveling — not simply within the music, but additionally within the ensemble itself. It supplied a good-looking, although nonetheless delicate, showcase for the winds to take a victory lap — and for Muti to take action too.