Vienna Philharmonic/Muti in New York – 3

Symphony No.35 in D, K385 (Haffner)
Two Pictures, Op.10
Rapsodie espagnole
The Three-Cornered Hat – Suites 1 & 2

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Riccardo Muti

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 5 March, 2006
Venue: Carnegie Hall, New York City

For 36 years, the musician-run Vienna Philharmonic has welcomed Riccardo Muti’s appearances, and in this concert, the final program in the orchestra’s three-concert series at Carnegie Hall, conductor and players again proved to be ideal collaborators. Following the second concert, not reviewed (not enough press tickets!), which included Schubert’s Fourth Symphony and Richard Strauss’s Tod und Verklärung, Muti opened this final concert with more music from the orchestra’s home turf, a clear-textured performance of Mozart’s Haffner Symphony, conducted with elegance and drive. At times the maestro appeared to be listening in admiration as much as conducting. This was especially true in the slow movement, when he occasionally lowered his arms, stood still, and let the orchestra play unimpeded. The performance as a whole was full of charm and refreshingly direct, marked by relatively unforced tempos.

A well-matched trio of twentieth-century works followed the Mozart. Two Pictures is one of Bartók’s early works. Composed in 1910, it shows the influence of Debussy in its harmonic language and loosely constructed patterns, and at the same time it reflects the heritage of Hungarian folk music that Bartók and his friend Zoltán Kodály so systematically researched and collected. The two movements of the piece, ‘In Full Flower’ and ‘Village Dance’, are constructed along an extended version of the traditional slow-fast pattern of the verbunkos or ‘recruiting dance’, a style popular in nineteenth-century Hungary and originally performed by Roma bands at recruitment ceremonies which were designed to convince young men to join the army. As played by the Vienna Philharmonic, the music was vibrant and charming. The musicians played with glowing affection and naturalness as Muti led them through the alternately swift and slow tempos.

In a positively luminous account of Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole, Muti showed off the orchestra’s prowess in the many sparkling and highly colored effects. The sensuousness of the piece was conveyed with unerring power and magnetism, as Muti moved naturally and spontaneously from the balmy, nocturnal atmosphere of the opening ‘Prélude à la nuit’ to the sparkling brilliance of the closing ‘Feria’.

Like the Rapsodie espagnole, Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat, given in suite form (if not advertised as such), was brilliantly played and wonderfully atmospheric. In a performance filled with character, Muti brought out all the color and humor of Falla’s vivid and seductive dance rhythms. The Vienna Philharmonic’s famously warm strings were especially rich and beguiling in this thoroughly enjoyable performance.

As an encore, Muti led the orchestra in a lively, unmannered performance of the overture to “Indigo und die vierzig Räuber” (Indigo and the Forty Thieves) by Johann Strauss II.

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