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Beethoven: Coriolan Overture, Op. 62; Symphony No. 8 in F Main, Op.93; Liadov: The Enchanted Lake, Op. 62; Mussorgsky: Photos at an Exhibition (Orch. Ravel). Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Riccardo Muti, conductor. Koerner Corridor, Feb. 2, 2023.
We’re nonetheless within the early levels of the brand new 12 months, and already Toronto has skilled what absolutely will depend as a spotlight of the 2023 musical season. I’m speaking concerning the go to earlier this week of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, below its music director Riccardo Muti, for 2 performances on the acoustically excellent Koerner Corridor. This tour was Muti’s final as CSO’s head honcho as he’s scheduled to step down. The tour (Jan. 22 -Feb. 2) took the CSO to Arizona, California, Oklahoma, Iowa, and at last Toronto.
The final time this fabled orchestra visited Toronto was over 100 years in the past, in 1914. The CSO is persistently ranked as one of many very high orchestras on this planet. A fast examine tells me that Gramophone in 2010 ranked it as No. 5 on this planet. Toronto’s musical cognoscenti knew a superb factor once they see one – the 2 reveals grew to become the most popular tickets on the town. Once I walked into Koerner Corridor final night for the second of two performances, there was a particular sense of a festive event, a palpable feeling of anticipation within the air.
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Live performance attendance has been gradual to get better following the pandemic, so it was gratifying to see a full home, even the choir loft was jammed. It was additionally a educated viewers, attentive and effectively behaved, with out extraneous applause and really quiet – you possibly can hear a pin drop. Even the coughing was unusually subdued, regardless of being within the useless of winter. And the viewers wasn’t shy with their approvals both, with repeated and effectively deserved standing ovations on the finish – however I’m getting forward of myself!
This system opened with two Beethoven items, beginning with the Coriolan Overture. Beethoven wasn’t a prolific opera composer, having solely penned Fidelio, however he was no stranger to “program music,” instrumental works that tells a narrative, comparable to this quick work. Coriolan was a topic for Shakespeare, however Beethoven composed it because the overture for an obscure play, Coriolan, by Viennese playwright Heinrich von Collin. The play wasn’t practically as profitable, closing after a brief run.
Subsequent on this system was Symphony No. 8, a brief work that’s overshadowed by Symphony No. 7, and naturally No. 5. No. 8 is a little bit of a throwback to the sooner classical model, which can clarify its place as one among Beethoven’s “lesser” works. That stated, it was a uncommon alternative to catch it dwell. Muti led the CS forces in an exemplary show of what makes this orchestra nice – a veritable masterclass on technical unison, incisiveness, fast silver, hairpin twists and turns, however by no means on the expense of lyricism and a mellow sound.
I ought to confess that No. 8 wouldn’t have been my first alternative in a program. By coincidence, I bumped into COC Music Director Johannes Debus at intermission, and we exchanged ideas on this piece. He considers No. 8 to be an actual problem, tough to convey off regardless of its misleading simplicity. His feedback made me query my very own pondering. As a result of it isn’t as “showy” and “emotional” as his different works, audiences, me included, have a tendency to treat it as light-weight. I like it, respect its formalism and intricacy, nevertheless it doesn’t contact the guts.
If “heart-touching” was what I used to be in search of, I obtained it in spades within the second half. It started softly sufficient, with The Enchanted Lake by Anatoly Liadov. The quiet, Debussy-like rating for strings lives as much as its title – enchanting certainly. Muti led the strings in a mesmerizing, virtually transcendental studying of the rating. It’s typically stated that it’s simpler to play loud than comfortable. “Quiet as a whisper” actually reveals the true colors of an important orchestra.
After such a hushed begin, Mussorgsky’s Photos at an Exhibition, orchestrated by Ravel, got here as virtually a shock. If the Liadov was soothing, Mussorgsky was the opposite excessive. “Spectacular” and “gorgeous” are apt descriptions of the torrents of sounds coming from the stage, loud however pretty always. Brass lovers obtained their fill with the Mussorgsky, to make certain. As a younger pupil eon in the past, it was virtually a recreation to see if I might hear a bitter be aware, an off sound, a blemish of some type notably from the brass part. Properly, I can guarantee you that there was none the entire night.
That stated, nonetheless fantastic the Mussorgsky was, the sound was so overwhelming that I needed to ask if this work carried out by a full orchestra possibly extra suited to a bigger venue than the 1,135 seat Koerner Corridor. I used to be in decrease balcony, and the sheer quantity of sound coming at me was so unbelievable that I ponder how the musicians on stage might address it. Maybe a sure diploma of listening to loss over time comes with the job…
The CSO performed an encore on each evenings. The primary night time, it was the Intermezzo from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. True to his operatic roots, Muti selected one other opera piece because the encore the second night time, the Intermezzo from Umberto Giordano’s Fedora. I confess to being an opera fanatic, so it was icing on the cake for me. As I walked by the entrance door of Koerner Corridor into the frigid night time air, I discovered myself buzzing the theme of the piece, “Amor ti vieta.”
What a good way to spend a night!