Maestro Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
The Asahi Shimbun, January 25, 2016

On Jan. 19, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra opened its program with Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony in Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, under the baton of music director Riccardo Muti. Listening to the precision and elegance of the Orchestra and Maestro Muti was like driving at top speed in a luxury sedan on a wide American highway. It was reminiscent of the orchestras of previous generations when music by classical composers such as Haydn and Mozart was performed with much richness and grandeur, before the versatile interpretations of Harnoncourt and Hogwood.

In Hindemith’s Concert Music for Brass and String Orchestra, the CSO’s brass section fully showed off its magnificence. These master virtuosi, who continue the legacy of Sir Georg Solti’s brilliant sound, played with such vibrancy. It was rather more symphonic than concerto-like where brass and strings came together and complemented each other, like organ and choir in a church. The majestic harmony between the two sections sometimes resembled that of Bruckner’s symphonies. It was ecstatic indeed!

They concluded the program with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Maestro Muti conducted as if he were conducting an opera by Verdi; every breath in each phrase was a passionate song. Under his baton, the sparkle of the brass, the richness of the woodwinds, and the fluidity of the strings melted and welded together so well. Such mastery! In recent years, the European orchestras of reputation, especially, have had the tendency of being concerto-like, as if they were enjoying an ensemble session.

In the case of Maestro Muti with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, however, he has kept the sound of a unified orchestra, literally symphonic, like the generation of legendary maestros in the past. The orchestra’s sound, rich and smooth like velvet, is perhaps closer to the Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan than its sometimes heavy sound under Solti. Today, in the 21st century in the U.S., Maestro Muti is regenerating the sound of the European “golden age” of the 20th century.  The tradition has been passed on.

Reprinted with permission. Translation by Kenji Sasaki