A sweet twist of fate allowed Pauline, myself and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to all be in Paris last Saturday evening (Oct. 25). The idea of hearing the hometown band play in a different hall on tour plus hearing how Parisians would react proved irresistible.
Paris’ Salle Pleyel is a modern, U-shaped, hall of little architectural distinction, soon to be replaced by a much larger, more distinctive music hall designed by Jean Nouvel and Christian de Portzamparc. However, from my seat in the first balcony, the acoustics sounded slightly better than the dry sound at Orchestra Hall.
From the opening downbeat, the orchestra’s unmistakably bold, unified sound was on display. It began with an unusually vigorous work by Mendelssohn full of brass flourishes and thundering tympani. Next came a sensitive, yet propulsive, reading of Debussy’s La Mer, accentuating both the sea’s fierce power as well as the soft lapping of the waves. Bringing an iconic French composition to Paris was a cheeky move akin to bringing coals to Newcastle. The audience registered its strong approval with hearty applause and cries of “Bravo” for Muti and the musicians.
Muti, however, saved the best for after intermission. He had substituted Tchaikovsky’s Symphony 4 for the originally scheduled Divine Poem by Scriabin. This was the only venue where the orchestra played this piece but the aural fireworks began with the opening brass call to arms. Muti shaped the dynamics of each movement beautifully, especially the exquisite, unison, pizzacatto playing of the third movement. And when Muti brought the work to a crashing conclusion, the audience went wild.
I rarely have heard the sort of strong rhythmic clapping that the Parisian audience gave the orchestra. They called Muti back several times until he returned to the podium and offered an encore. Not just any short work but, following the bluster of Tchaikovsky, a sensitive, luxurious account of the overture to Verdi’s Nabucco. A master stroke by the music world’s leading Verdi conductor. As the entire CSO ensemble gave a ravishing display of total musical unity, I thought that the CSO should schedule a program of Verdi overtures and arias led by Muti at Orchestra Hall. So far, he has only graced us with the Requiem. Let’s have a rich helping of this composer’s scores for the living.
It was a night of gorgeous playing and emotional connection that made me proud of our orchestra and proud to be a Chicagoan!