Riccardo Muti's program with the Philadelphia Orchestra last night in the Kennedy Center was the most interesting he has yet offered his Washington audiences. And it brought out the finest conducting he has done thus-far in this city.
The evening began with the magnificent Funeral Music Witold Lutoslawski wrote in momory of Bela Bartok, whom he so greatly admired. With the Philadelphia strings in superlative form, Muti wove the music as if on a great loom and with unerring art. When he reached the great unison passage for the entire string body, he proved its greatness through his stunning conducting. The effect of the falling tritone with which the work closes was of ineffable beauty.
The Walton Viola Concerto followed with Joseph de Pasquale as the magistral soloist. The music never ceases to appeal in its lyrical beauty, buzzed at times with characteristic Walton sardonicism. If it lacks the haunting loveliness of the Violin Concerto with those arching octaves, it is still one of the great solo vehicles of this century. The playing from soloist and orchestra alike was of supernal elegance.
It was, however, with the Third Symphony of Prokofiev that Muti made the strongest effect thus far in his Washington career. This is a throny score, derived from the large opera, "The Flaming Angel," and full of the kind of diabolism more often associated with omens and exorcism than symphony concerts.
No amount of explaining can dissociate those pounding fibrous chords from the action of this neglected opera. But even to those who may be strangers to Prokofiev's Renata and her Ruprecht, the music, like that of Hindemith's symphony from "Mathis der Maler," makes its own case. It is driving and driven, and Muti presented it with relentless intensity keeping it taut save in those few moments when there is a hint of release. The playing was no mere mater of volume. It carried all the impact the composer hoped for when he carved its torrents out of the opera he never heard. It was Muti's passionate, conviction that made the performance, thanks to the tremendous response he elicited from his players.