Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Muti - Royal Festival Hall, 5 October 2007
That Mitsuko Uchida gets everywhere. After Tuesday's LSO concert, here she was again, tucked away at the back of the stalls, understated in black and teal Issey. I spotted a number of other musicians too, here to catch the first of two nights from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Riccardo Muti -- as usual looking glossily ex-footballer chic, and amazingly youthful for a man pushing 70.
Although the first half of tonight's programme was familiar -- Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony, the second was less so -- Hindemith's Nobilissima Visione Suite and Scriabin's Le poème de l'extase. Perhaps this accounted for the fair number of empty seats. Or perhaps it was the eyewatering ticket prices, nearly all in the £45+ range. Even the handful of cheapest seats (restricted view, no legroom) were £17. The Southbankers make the right noises about inclusion, but for most people I speak to, cost is the #1 reason why they don't attend concerts.
The CSO have been touring this programme around Europe for the last couple of weeks, and it was reflected in the bleached and blowdried sheen of their performance, almost antiseptically flawless in its precision of intonation and ensemble, polished from top to bottom -- no passengers here.
The Tchaikovsky was actually a little too perfect, honed to near-lifelessness. Muti has to be congratulated for avoiding the temptations of sentimentality, but this interpretation veered towards complete inscrutability. Though the tutti pauses did make me draw breath -- many orchestras over-anticipate these and sort of sag into them then lurch out again. The CSO disappear in a puff of smoke, then flick back on -- pure magic.
Even the CSO's polish couldn't buff the ugly layers of Hindemith's Nobilissima Visione, but they triumphed with the orgiastic thrills of Scriabin's Le poème de l'extase. Denying bombast and with, for once, the arid acoustics of the refurbished Royal Festival Hall working in its favour, Muti rolled the densely embroidered score from one climactic crest to another in ecstatic splendour. Whew! I needed a cigarette afterwards (and I don't even smoke), and judging by the applause I wasn't the only one.
Instead, after a cryptic extended introductory speech from the maestro himself, we got a suitable musical substitute - Schubert's Rosamunde overture, delivered with tender poise.
For a (depressingly truthful) perspective on this concert, and on London, from the other side of the platform, check out CSO bassist Michael Hovnanian's fascinating blog -- he should be one of the guys pictured below.