Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra gave a performance of Mahler's immense First Symphony last night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall that was fairly remarkable--meltingly tender in some lyric moments and white-hot in the climaxes.
Muti's interpretation was splendid. He takes his Mahler somewhere between the cool rationality of his Italian colleague Abbado and the epic musical dramatics of Bernstein. For one example, a specifically characterized passage like the entrancing Viennese waltz in the trio of the second movement had enough lilt and rubato to be individual, but the classic framework into which it fell remained.
I have seldom heard the Philadelphia, or any other orchestra, play better. Part of the credit must go to Muti, who is clearly trying to stretch the expressive range of the lush ensemble he inherited from Eugene Ormandy. It is not so much, as has been maintained, that he is hardening the sound; he is simply adding harder attacks, drier timbres and wider dynamic contrasts to the immense battery of sound already at the Philadelphia's disposal.
But credit for the kind of virtuosity we heard last night must go primarily to the players. The unanimity and balance with which they played comes only from the most careful listening to each other and and to understanding exactly what kind of balance the composer wanted. I don't recall seeing Muti have to correct a balance once during the symphony.
This performance was preceded by something almost incongruous: the popular French trumpet player Maurice Andre' in the Haydn concerto and a transcription for trumpet of a Marcello oboe concerto. The Falstaffian Andre' always plays in full tone and acts in full charisma. Both his occasional dwelling on high notes and his seduction of the audience during applause with winks, coy waves and blown kisses raises a few questions of taste. In the process, not much was asked of the orchestra.