Conductor: Dan Ettinger
Spending part of summer in Northern Italy to get away from the South’s predicted overbearing summer heat sounded like a good idea at first, until I got there and realized that there was no escaping Mother Nature. Of course, Italy being Italy, there was plenty of historical, artistic and culinary delights to indulge in, but no live music to be heard anywhere, except for the occasional youngster trying to make a few bucks by belting out Italian pop songs with various levels of talent in Padova.
The persistent bad timing started when I arrived in Trieste as a performance of Carmina Burana was getting underway in the courtyard of the hill-top Castle of San Giusto, and it literally all went downhill from there. Granted, Ferrara’s famous Buskers Festival could have kind of fit the bill, but I chickened out at the thought of dealing with huge crowds, loud music and lingering mugginess, so I prudently stayed in my air-conditioned temporary home plotting the following day’s sight-seeing schedule.
After a return in Naples under pouring rain in late August, the summer heat curse lifted, and so did the no live music curse a few days later when I received an offer from the Teatro di San Carlo for discounted tickets to a performance of Anton Brucker’s monumental — and much revised — 4th symphony. So I signed up for it, grabbed my typically ready, willing and able friend Vittorio, and we were off to an Late Romanticism-filled evening in the city.
Back in February, the plan to take my mom to an in-depth guided tour of the San Carlo with friends for her birthday kind of petered out when we realized that the whole place was undergoing renovations, but we still got to partake in a mini tour and watch some the workers painstakingly cleaning the ceiling’s magnificent fresco. On Thursday evening, after having enjoyed some delicious caprese al limone in the theater’s cool underground café, we were in for another real treat when we saw the eye-popping result, and for a second almost forgot about the music.
I am not a big fan of Bruckner, and I tend to prefer his later works, but hey, again, beggars cannot be choosers, and his fourth symphony is not his most popular one for no reason, so it was with some excitement that we eventually took our premium parterre seats in the well-filled auditorium and mentally prepared ourselves for a refreshing escapade in the countryside courtesy of the San Carlo’s supremely capable orchestra under the baton of its energetic music director and conductor Dan Ettinger.
And sure enough, they handled the Romantic with élan and precision, expertly staying on top of the big sound waves and beautifully bringing out countless small details. The composition cannot claim to have the sweeping immensity of Wagner or the exacting complexity of Brahms, but it is grandiose enough, opening with barely-there tremolo strings and a glorious horn solo to usher a lyrical morning in a medieval city that includes a morning call, the opening of the gate, and the gallop of the knights’ horses.
The orchestra kept the momentum going through the charmingly melodic serenade of the second movement, the unforgiving hare hunt of the third movement, and the kind of mysterious gathering of the last movement, all without overdoing it, even if the hunt quickly got outright rambunctious thanks to the mighty brass blasting at full power, and the whole performance ended up forming an organically harmonious as well as consistently entertaining whole for a very satisfying musical evening indeed.