London can take pride in its two main orchestras. The LSO and the Philharmonia have been in vintage form, with Riccardo Muti and Bernard Haitinkby Stephen Everson / March 17, 2005 / Leave a comment
Riccardo Muti’s godfatherly charmsMusically, these are good times for what are currently the capital’s two main orchestras—the Philharmonia and the LSO—and it is suitable that each should be in celebratory mood. The LSO is in the middle of its 18-month long centenary celebrations, and now the Philharmonia has started the festivities for its own 60th anniversary—which falls in October—with a gala concert at the Royal Festival Hall at the end of January. Where the LSO made its first gala a diverse affair, bringing in a squad of its associates from Rostropovich and Brendel right down to Michael Tilson Thomas and Dave Brubeck, the Philharmonia chose to provide more substantial musical fare. Entrusting the concert to just one conductor—Riccardo Muti, who was its musical director for a decade from 1972—and eschewing such things as the main theme from Star Wars, it put Beethoven’s violin concerto in the first half, with Vadim Repin as soloist, and Schubert’s “Great” symphony in the second. Muti is now a rare visitor to Britain—certainly rarer than Covent Garden had hoped, given his sudden decision to pull out of conducting Verdi’s La Forza del Destino there last October—and it was something of a coup for the Philharmonia to have brought him back to the London stage.
Speaking at the reception after the concert, Muti, who is now in his sixties, manifested a physical glamour and ironic charm that would have made him a natural for a leading role in one of The Godfather films—something that has no doubt assisted him during his tenure at La Scala. On the platform, he seemed not to have aged since his days as music director. Still with the same surprising mane of fleckless black hair, he was so balletic as he communicated his directions to the various sections of the orchestra that it came as a shock when he turned at the end to reveal a man long past his youth. The concert itself was a mixed affair. Repin is as fine a violinist as any of his Russian contemporaries, and one would have expected him to be an ideal soloist for the Beethoven. Technically, indeed, he was impeccable, but to my ear it was as if the concerto itself had yet to convince him of its merits. Most problematic was the first movement, which he and Muti took so slowly that it seemed to go on forever, and so episodically…