“They are literally a heart and a soul,” declared the Kurier after the first of four performances Dec. 6-9 by conductor Riccardo Muti and pianist Rudolf Buchbinder with the Vienna Philharmonic at the Musikverein. Die Presse noted how audiences relished, with “justified ovations,” these concerts that also featured Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto, Stravinsky’s Divertimento from The Fairy’s Kiss and Respighi’s Pines of Rome.

During the 2019-20 season, Vienna’s Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society of Friends of Music, also known as the Musikverein) celebrates the 150th anniversary of its hall with a high-profile subscription series, exhibitions and many other activities. These December performances were part of this celebration, as will be the upcoming performance Jan. 13 of Verdi’s Requiem by Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during the orchestra’s 62nd international tour.*

A poster announces that a concert with Riccardo Muti, Rudolf Buchbinder and the Vienna Philharmonic featuring Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 is ausverkauft — sold out.

Like the Musikverein’s first performances in 1870, the festival concerts are combined with special concerts for the birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, who as an honorary member was especially attached to the Musikverein. Muti and Buchbinder, both honorary members themselves, share this remarkable distinction with the composer. Now in honor of Beethoven’s 250th birthday, the Musikverein for the first time in its 150-year history gave a single pianist, Rudolf Buchbinder, the honor of performing Beethoven’s five piano concertos in a special cycle. Buchbinder’s partners in this unprecedented presentation were the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Andris Nelsons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, and the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and the Staatskapelle Dresden under their chief conductors including the late Mariss Jansons, Valery Gergiev and Christian Thielemann.

Muti conducted the culminating performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto with Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, which the Kurier described as “exceptional  …  the best possible contenders in terms of exemplary Beethoven interpretation.” “Muti created a perfect balance of sound in the three movements,” observed Karlheinz Roschitz of Kronen Zeitung, particularly noting the “religious intimacy” of his interpretation of the second movement, marked adagio.

The other works on the program equally delighted audiences. Described as “Tchaikovsky in Stravinsky’s clothes” by Die Presse, the Divertimento from The Fairy’s Kiss is Stravinsky’s orchestrated homage to earlier piano pieces by Tchaikovsky; Stravinsky later created a version for violin and piano. The Kronen Zeitung noted the appeal of “swinging elegance” that inspired Die Presse’s headline: “Muti’s invitation to the dance.”

“With a sovereignty beyond compare,” Muti concluded the program with Respighi’s Pines of Rome, wrote Die Press, “four episodes of Roman history and landscape in a fascinating orchestral tableaux” creating “a nonstop narrative that was breathtakingly suspenseful.”

*Also at the Musikverein, Muti and the CSO will perform the overture to Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler Symphony and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 3 on Jan. 11 and again, Verdi’s Requiem with the Wiener Singverein, soprano Karssimira Stoyanova, alto Daniela Barcellona, tenor Francesco Meli and bass Riccardo Zanellato, on Jan. 14.

TOP: Rudolf Buchbinder and Riccardo Muti take their bows after a performance Dec. 6 of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 at the Musikverein.  The concert was part of a 150th anniversary celebration of the historic Vienna venue. | Photo: ©Terry Linke