“When all Italy storms beaches and hotels, Riccardo Muti goes on his annual business trip north,” proclaimed the Vienna Zeitung, in reference to his annual appearance at the Salzburg Festival with the Vienna Philharmonic.

Muti leads the Vienna Philharmonic, choristers and vocal soloists in Verdi’s Requiem on Aug. 15 at the Salzburg Festival. | Photo: Marco Borrelli

This year’s concerts included three sold-out performances of Verdi’s Requiem. These concerts were given in honor of the 30th anniversary of the death of Herbert von Karajan, who first invited Muti to perform at the festival in 1971 and who was a central — if not the central — figure there from 1933 to 1989. “Verdi’s work was much loved by Karajan, and the date is also of significance, as his Assumption Day concerts were always an auspicious occasion in the Festival calendar.

Moreover, it was Herbert von Karajan who entrusted the young Riccardo Muti with his first Mozart opera in Salzburg in 1982,” read the introductory letter co-authored by the festival’s leaders. It was also Muti, who was asked to conduct a special performance of Mozart’s Requiem in D minor at the festival on July 23, 1989, in honor of Karajan’s passing the week before on July 16.

In an interview with Valerio Cappelli of Corriere della Sera, Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, elaborated on his relationship and great respect for Karajan.  He recalled the gesture of his conducting: “It was circular, in front of his face, different from the old way of beating time. Soft, supple and violent if necessary; he drew the phrase with his hands.”

Karajan, like Muti, was a noted interpreter of Verdi, and, in fact, the Requiem was the last work he conducted with the Berlin Philharmonic shortly before his death. “Karajan’s [Verdi Requiem] embodied modernity,” Muti said. “The maestro, who with Tuscan fidelity, brought a new light with which he gilded everything. The beautiful Karajan sound: transparency, elegance, sumptuousness.”

Susanne Zobl of Austria’s Kurier wrote,“Verdi’s Requiem is Muti’s core repertoire. [It’s] incredible, as he never stops exploring its depths and setting new standards. How he returns details to this score is unrivaled. … He reaches the apex of emotion through pure precision.”

Riccardo Muti greets Dr. Helga Rabl-Stadler, president of the Salzburg Festival; Queen Silvia of Sweden; King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, and Eva Maria O’Neill, chairman of the Amadeus Weekend, after the Aug. 13 performance of Verdi’s Requiem. | Photo courtesy of the Salzburg Festival

Karlheinz Roschitz of Kronen Zeitung referred to Muti as the “Lord-siegelbewahrer” (the English equivalent of “standard bearer”), adding, “what made this performance particularly exciting was the development of his interpretation, with which he has been directly following the Karajan tradition since his Salzburg debut in 1971.”

The Vienna Zeitung noted the “heartbreaking ‘Libera me’ … with such a sound that even atheists ought to flirt with taking religion,” while the Kurier referred to the “Dies irae” as “what it could be like when a soul stand before its judge.”

Muti and the Vienna Philharmonic were joined by the Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus and distinguished soloists, all of whom performed in the CSO’s 2018-19 season finale performances of Aida, including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili, tenor Francesco Meli and bass Ildar Abdrazakov. As Jay Nordinger of The New Criterion noted, “These are four of Maestro Muti’s favorite singers, and four of the best. You could not assemble a better quartet for the Requiem.”

Muti’s concerts are a highlight of the Salzburg season, and this year’s performances were no exception. In attendance at the Aug. 13 performances were King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden, who then went backstage to meet with Maestro Muti. The Aug. 15 performance was also one of the few concerts selected for broadcast by ORF radio, Austrian’s national public broadcaster.

Perhaps the Kurier best summed up the performance, saying, “That was perfect music-making. Ovation.”

TOP: Riccardo Muti conducts Verdi’s Requiem with the Vienna Philharmonic, Vienna State Opera Chorus and soloists soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili, tenor Francesco Meli, and bass Ildar Abdrazakov at the 2019 Salzburg Festival. | Photo: ©Marco Borrelli/Salzburg Festival