What I'm Hearing Tonight

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What I'm Hearing Tonight

Post by Ralph » Sat Apr 16, 2005 9:59 am

From The New York Times:

April 16, 2005
After Being Caught Up in a Storm, Muti Directs Attention Elsewhere

There were a number of messages you could have taken away from the concert that Riccardo Muti led with the New York Philharmonic on Thursday night. One: it's all about the music. Another: we should commiserate with the victims of violence everywhere. Yet another: Franz Liszt really, really liked women.

Admittedly, the audience's initial focus was not on any of these messages but on Mr. Muti himself, who is under considerable scrutiny in the wake of his resignation from Teatro Alla Scala this month. There was certainly a frisson when he entered, or at least a contingent crying "Viva!" did its best to create one. And it was not checked when Mr. Muti picked up a microphone to address the audience. His only political statement, however, was to dedicate the first piece on the program, Goffredo Petrassi's 1941 "Coro di Morti" ("Chorus of the Dead"), to "victims of violence in the world today," requesting that the audience maintain silence at the close of the piece in lieu of applause.

"Coro di Morti" is a dark, sinewy piece for male voices and low instruments - brass, drums, three pianos and double basses - that beats out chains of chords in dirgelike cadences, flecked with hints of tone-painting.

The vocabulary was spare, but the emotion, as conveyed by Mr. Muti, was romantic: his ardor either tempered the work's bleakness or heightened it. But Mr. Muti's worst enemy could not have come up with a better way to deflate him than a member of the Philharmonic's audience unwittingly did: a cellphone rang just as the piece was fading into its final hush. The ring was so eerily in tone and in tempo that it was not immediately clear whether it was a part of the piece.

Mr. Muti kept the focus on the music by not visibly ruffling and by plunging, after the intermission, into Liszt's "Faust Symphony," which represents almost more music than is really necessary. You feel that it could have said the same thing with less verbiage - like Goethe's poem, some might say, except that Goethe's poem is a lot better than Liszt's symphony.

You could say that it showcases Mr. Muti's operatic leanings, with three movements corresponding to the three main characters: Faust (pensive and anxious), Gretchen (melodious, with lots of graceful solo instruments) and Mephistopheles (antic, with a sinister edge). At the end, all of "Faust, Part II" is compressed into a few sung lines of coda - for some, the best editing of the evening.

A certain aggressive quality was evident in the "Faust" movement in particular, a jaggedness bordering on sloppiness from the orchestra. But Mr. Muti found the lissome grace in Gretchen and steered the ensemble ever more surely through the music's turgid waters.

The coda was a fine finale, with the men's chorus (the New York Choral Artists did well) and Thomas Moser, the tenor, whose singing was unusually pleasing. Even when he didn't quite have the notes, he seemed to take evident delight in Liszt's repeated evocations of the "Ewig-Weibliche," the eternal feminine, whose allure was repeated over and over, with lingering regret.

The program repeats tonight at 8 at Lincoln Center, (212) 875-5656.

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

Albert Einstein


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