Just days after concluding an acclaimed run of Mozart’s Così fan tutte at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Riccardo Muti headed to Austria earlier this month for a three-concert residency with the Vienna Philharmonic at its home in the famed Musikverein, followed by a short tour to Germany with the orchestra.

Zell Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Muti shares a special bond with the Vienna Philharmonic, which he first conducted in 1971. The orchestra awarded him the Golden Ring, a special sign of esteem and affection — and an honor given to only a few select conductors.

The Musikverein concerts on Dec. 13 and 15-16, which featured a program of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 and Mozart’s Flute Concerto in G Major, with Karl-Heinz Schütz, Vienna’s principal flute, as soloist, received universal praise from the Austrian press. For his review in the Kurier, Peter Jarolin wrote: “They do exist. Those magical moments that elevate an already excellent concert into the realms of the extraordinary, almost supernatural. … For here (but not only here) the Vienna Philharmonic and star conductor Riccardo Muti excelled with a sound polished to brilliance. Muti and the perfectly attuned orchestra were literally breathing this Bruckner symphony, shaping every single detail, even the smallest, without ever losing sight of the big picture. … Ravishing strings, flawless brass and a conductor with a lot of heart and intellect. A long-lasting effect! … How well Muti and the Vienna Philharmonic harmonize, how conductor and orchestra can become one organic unit, also was experienced in Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Orchestra in G Major (KV 313).”

Die Presse declared: “In the most beautiful moments, you had the feeling that the Philharmonic became one with the architecture of the great hall of the Musikverein, as if that sound, noble even in its strongest fortissimo moments, merged with the caryatids, velvet, candelabras. When Riccardo Muti leads the Philharmonic, an understanding cultivated over decades shapes the close relationship between expression and beauty.”

In the Kronen Zeitung, Karlheinz Roschitz called the program “an evening of brilliant music-making, with the Vienna Philharmonic’s perfectly balanced sound, wonderful nuances and an ideal balance between beauty and depth.”

Der Standard singled out Muti’s mastery in the Bruckner: “The warming cantabile animated the symphonic colossus of the Seventh. Muti conducted with serenity, free from frenzied over-interpretation. The 77-year-old took all the time in the world. … This sensitivity and intimacy, this brilliance, this noble splendor and also this intensity in the climaxes of the first two movements.”

After the Musikverein residency, Riccardo Muti embarked with the Vienna Philharmonic for concerts Dec. 17-19 featuring the same program in Munich, Berlin and Cologne. In her review for the Süddeutsche Zeitung of the Munich performance, Ekaterina Kel wrote: “With a clenched fist in the direction of the horns, trumpets, trombones and Wagner’s tubas, Muti takes the orchestra into the stratosphere. It’s never about the demonstration of strength; instead it’s the feeling, the affirmative power of just the fastest way to meditative rest.”

Following the concert in Berlin, Manuel Brug of Die Welt singled out “the gentleman on the podium [standing] at ease, with the bearing of a grand seigneur and good old friend: Riccardo Muti. He and the Vienna Philharmonic mastered the 80-minute climb up the giant mountain of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 with perfect pacing and flawless finesse.”