Conductor: Riccardo Muti
Liszt: Les Préludes, Symphonic Poem No 3, after Lamartine
Elgar: In the South (Alassio), Concert-overture for Orchestra, Op. 50
Prokofiev: Selections from Romeo and Juliet
Finally! After almost two decades without bothering with Washington, superstar maestro Muti found the time to bring his aristocratic demeanor and Italian charisma to our nation's capital to conduct the prestigious New York Philharmonic Orchestra with whom he's had a long and much involved relationship, but one which he has never made "official" despite a lot of ardent and repeated courting. The oldest orchestra in the US and one of the oldest ones in the world, the NY Philharmonic is as well-known at home as abroad, and was first presented by the Washington Performance Arts Society 60 years ago. Although I am not familiar with either Liszt's Les préludes or Elgar's In the South, I know enough about the composers' oeuvres to feel confident in their capacity to please. I was lucky enough to hear some excerpts of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet just a few weeks ago in Berlin with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, but one can never hear too much Prokofiev, so bring it on.
Probably the most popular among Liszt's symphonic poems, Les préludes had a tortuous genesis. The actual connection between the score and Lamartine's verse has often been seen as vague at best, but what has been clearly established is that the sequence of musical moods had originally been inspired by Joseph Autrans' poems regrouped under The Four Elements (Stars, Waves, Earth and Wind). Accordingly, yesterday afternoon we got to experience plenty of nuanced lyricism, some stormy weather and a life-affirming ending, all under the fully engaged control of Riccardo Muti, who firmly conducted an exceptionally tight orchestra.
Next, we moved to the musings of an Englishman in Italy with Elgar and his Edwardian take on the bucolic village of Andora. The result was a lively tone poem with an exuberant opening before grandly evoking ancient Rome and prettily exuding the joys of nature. Although the radiant viola solo was an unforgettable trip in itself (Who knew such an inconspicuous instrument could make such incredible sounds?), the whole orchestra beautifully delivered a truly brilliant account of the composer's striking vision of that part of Italy. As a loudly enthusiastic audience member kept on repeating to himself and everybody around him, the first part of the program was no less than "fabulous!"
Originally deemed "undanceable" by the dancers of the Bolshoi Ballet, Prokofiev's score for the ballet of Romeo and Juliet has long become a classic thanks to its Romantic-to-the-core musical interpretation of the famous tragedy. Yesterday, one only had to listen to "Montagues and Capulets" or "Masks" to quickly fall under the spell of their infectious melodic lines, but the more emotionally dramatic accounts, such as Romeo and Juliet's passionate love or Tybalt's violent death, received a masterful treatment as well. Beautiful music was made by our visitors on this late Saturday afternoon, and we can only hope to see them again soon, and together.