Riccardo Muti may be noted for his aristocratic refinement, but he seems intent on showing New York that he can be brash and bombastic. After his cultivated fashion, of course.
Last week he mustered a Russian programme that culminated with the endless razzle-dazzle of Scriabin. This week he looked homeward to Italy, but the banal bluster lingered on.
The central attraction took the rambling form of the Piano Concerto No 2 of Giuseppe Martucci, an Italian romantic whose music Muti, like Arturo Toscanini before him, has championed. The Philharmonic had ventured the piece only twice before, long ago. Gustav Mahler introduced it on February 21 1911, at the concert that turned out to be his last. Suffering, according to the New York Times, from “a light attack of grip”), he ceded his baton to an assistant for the repeat performance and died of bacterial endocarditis three months later.
Muti got the orchestra to unravel Martucci’s massive knots, anno 1886, with brilliant nonchalance. Gerhard Oppitz, the brave Bavarian pianist, made his Philharmonic debut unfazed by the obstacle course, mustering power and passion even on the rare occasions when the score might have allowed a little subtlety. It was rewarding to hear this curio, a period piece brimming with Austro-Germanic allusions and illusions. Still, it would stretch credulity to claim that Martucci’s neglect has been unwarranted. Despite lofty intentions, the showpiece meanders for 40 clangorous minutes through a morass of murky muck.
Verdi’s tawdry ballet music for Macbetto sounded absolutely elegant in this context, especially when Judith LeClair floated the arching bassoon solo with bona-fide bel-canto finesse. Closing the concert amid push-button cheers, Muti directed traffic through the whomping snaps, crackles and pops of Respighi’s Feste romane. The maestro couldn’t mute the vulgarity, but he could impose a certain restraint. The festive sprawl emerged taut, clean and crisp. One must be grateful for small favours.
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