Muti and Mutter together this time for electric partnership at CSO Ball

Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 12:10 pm

By Michael Cameron

Anne-Sophie Mutter performing Mendelssohn Saturday night with Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2012

What a difference a week makes.

Last Saturday the Chicago Symphony Orchestra stunned the musical community by initiating a strike over the details of their benefit package. Few fans seemed aware that a strike was imminent, certainly not the scores of patrons who arrived at Orchestra Hall that night only to find musicians holding picket signs instead of instruments.

Happily the strike was over in two days, and to no one’s surprise, Chicago avoided the fate suffered recently by orchestras such as the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble currently locked out of its fourth week of concerts and possibly facing steep cuts in salary, benefits, and personnel. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra ended its strike Thursday after a month of cancelled concerts and a contract that substantially reduced their salary.

Such days of reckoning seemed far from the thoughts of patrons of the Symphony Ball gala concert Saturday night at Symphony Center, sponsored by the Women’s Board of the orchestra. Before cocktails, dinner, and dancing at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park, maestro Riccardo Muti treated the glitterati to a trio of audience favorites, delivered with more probity than is usually the case at these affairs.

In his impromptu post-performance comments, Muti didn’t directly acknowledge the labor dispute, but his plea to patrons for their continued support beyond this glitzy bash was no doubt a call for solidarity. He also provided rationale for his program, including a nod to Sir Georg Solti, who introduced violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter to Chicago audiences in 1980. Her American debut earlier that year featured the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, the same work she dusted off for this affair. Muti reminded the audience of her unscheduled assumption of podium duties at the same event two years earlier when an ailment at the last hour kept the music director off the stage.

Mutter can no doubt play this warhorse in her sleep, but she has never been one to fall back on cookie-cutter retakes. Her riveting performance brought an impulsive freshness to the score without relying on hollow gimmickry or misguided showmanship. Her glowing opening movement placed her sound front and center, with an intensely burnished vibrato that on occasion ceased altogether, most notably during a lengthy quiet transition before the cadenza.

The middle movement was among the quickest I’ve heard, no doubt justified by her urge to forgo micromanaged phrasing for a longer view. The same held true in the finale, as she pushed the tempo to the very limits of her considerable technical arsenal. She briefly flew ahead of Muti in the final pages, but this friendly tension between soloist and maestro made for an electric collaboration, bringing a grateful audience to their feet.

The spirit of Solti was again channeled in Wagner’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman, giving a prelude of the former music director’s 100th birthday concert next month as well as a foretaste of the composer’s 200th birthday celebration in 2013, dubbed “The Wagner Effect” by the CSO. Muti’s reading was gleaming, transparent, and highly refined, reminding his audience that this most illustrious of Verdi interpreters can tackle the German operatic touchstones with comparable authority.

Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture didn’t skimp on celebratory panache, but there was far more to the reading than noise and fury. The CSO’s lower strings sang and strutted as the score required, and the trumpet section was a marvel, soaring effortlessly with gleaming brilliance and pinpoint accuracy.

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment