New York Philharmonic/Muti

Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat minor, Op.66
Macbeth – Ballet Music
Feste romane

Gerhard Oppitz (piano)

New York Philharmonic
Riccardo Muti

Reviewed by: Victor Wheeler

Reviewed: 27 January, 2007
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

This all-Italian program opened with a little-known piano concerto by Giuseppi Martucci. His First Piano Concerto is even less known. The last time the New York Philharmonic performed the Second was in 1911, with Gustav Mahler, then the Philharmonic’s music director, conducting the first performance, but, because of illness, not the second one – the orchestra’s concertmaster, Theodore Spiering, conducted instead.

Riccardo Muti is an admirer of Martucci’s Second Concerto and it showed in his conducting and in the responses he brought forth from the orchestra. One thinks of opera as being the mainstay of Italian music in the second half of the 19th-century. But Martucci’s huge concerto shows that instrumental music also had its place in Italy then. Gerhard Oppitz handled this monumental work with athleticism, dexterity, and nimbleness. His stamina for the approximately 40-minute, three-movement piece was truly impressive. Oppitz had total dominance of the piano and of the music. His hands glided across the keyboard effortlessly. Muti elicited lush and wholesome playing from the orchestra, with moments of pure musicality provided by solo passages from horn, clarinet, and flute. The dialogue between orchestra and piano was both subtle and emotive. This work should be performed more often: Oppitz, Muti, and the Philharmonic brought it grandly to life.

The ballet music that Verdi composed for the 1865 version of “Macbeth” involves spirits, devils, and witches dancing around a cauldron honoring Hecate, the Greek goddess of fertility and protector of witches. The brass, with its drawn-out passages, displayed power that was in perfect contrast to the softness of the strings, particularly the cellos. Muti directed this piece with assurance and flair.

Respighi (whose professor was Martucci) scored Feste romane for a large orchestra including sleigh bells and mandolin. Respighi was a genius at tone-painting. In ‘Games at the Circus Maximus’, one imagined savage beasts strutting about bellowing in anger. ‘The Jubilee’ gave the sense of a languid group of pilgrims after a long journey … the ecstasy of a Jubilee Year projected through cymbal clashes and the evocation of Praetorian Guard trumpet-playing. In ‘The October Festival’, a combination of weariness and celebration was felt. ‘The Epiphany’ was electrifying, the many measures of loud brass vibrated through the hall. Muti was in total control. With his hands floating in air, his body swaying, and his baton cutting an arc through the energized atmosphere, Muti showed himself to be the perfect conductor for all the works performed here.

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