Riccardo Muti Leads Chicago Symphony in Memorable L.A. Debut

By Truman C. Wang

Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg 

This was the first Disney Hall visit by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and their Italian maestro Riccardo Muti.   In a brief speech, the famed maestro gushed about, among other things, the L.A. weather and the “great hall”.  The admiration, I am sure, was mutual, as the hall overflowed to capacity and a long line formed outside hoping to land tickets.  Many in the audience were L.A. Phil musicians, past and present, coming to pay homage to a storied American orchestra. 

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has a long history of playing and recording Brahms under Solti, Wand, Barenboim, et al.  The hallmark ‘CSO sound’ of warm and powerful lyricism was always evident in those performances.  Under Riccardo Muti, since 2010, it acquired an additional dimension of drama.  The two Brahms Symphonies Nos 2 and 3 heard at this concert had all the raw power and emotional chiaroscuro of a Verdi opera. 

Always an exacting drill sergeant in his music making and podium deportment, Muti unleashed boldly articulated strings in the Brahms Symphony No. 3, complementing them with mellow brass and transparent woodwinds.  The effect was power without being overforceful (outer movement allegros), and tender lyricism without being maudlin (the third movement ‘Poco Allegretto’ was one long legato singing line).  The Symphony No. 2 also received a glowing reading of its pastoral and melancholy episodes, ending in a cataclysmic finale of stunning lyrical beauty and power.   Memorable solo turns included Stefan Ragnar Hoskuldsson’s silken flute, Alexander Vvedenskiy’s oboe (No. 2 third movement) and Daniel Gingrich’s horn.

After the Olympian struggle that was the finale of Brahms Second Symphony, maestro Muti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in an encore of Schubert’s Entr’acte No. 3 from “Rosamunde”, in a quietly contemplative reading, as if praying for peace in a “cruel, aggressive world” (in the maestro’s own words).

Truman C. Wang is Editor-in-Chief of Classical Voice, whose articles have appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Pasadena Star-News, other Southern California publications, as well as the Hawaiian Chinese Daily.