Riccardo Muti brought the Philadelphia Orchestra subscribers an unusual program last night by placing Paul Hindemith's Concert Music for Strings and Brass and Sir Edward Elgar's "In the South" in its second half.
Neither of these comes around very often. The impressive work Hindemith wrote 50 years ago for the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony was superb in sound, with the brass choir in ideal balance and the strings producing the precise sonority called for. The music remains vigorous, full of fresh ideas, including several very jazzy breaks. Muti led it with convincing control.
Elgar's tone poem is also called "Alassio," after the tiny Italian village that inspired it. It is directly modeled upon the tone poems of Richard Strauss, than which there is no better model. There are the same instrumental combinations, the upthrusting horn motifs, and strings in full cry.Its loveliest moment comes in an exquisite pianissimo passage to which Joseph de Pasquale's solo viola gave a ravishing sound, especially when joined by the oboe, horn and a few whispering violins. In sum, however, the piece is decidedly second-class Elgar, pleasant, hardly more.
The concert opened with a reading of the Beethoven Seventh Symphony that held nothing of greatness. The playing was even ragged, if momentarily -- from the Philadelphia Orchestra! Slight ritards in the allegretto were lamentable, detracting from its proper momentum. The finale, which began coarsely, ended up plain vulgar. It sounded more like the "William Tell" Overture, or the chariot race from "Ben Hur." It has not been played faster or louder within memory.