My Musical November: Muti, Nelsons

Two visits to Carnegie Hall over the past few days: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under Riccardo Muti (above), for Prokofiev, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, under Andris Nelsons (below), for Grieg and Mahler. I’m not going to use a compare-and-contrast baton to beat one of these conductors at the expense of the other. I will only say that I noticed this week, more than ever, how Muti conducts from the shoulder, often rigidly so, and how Nelsons conducts from the torso, in a free-flowing manner that sometimes makes me wonder where the orchestra gleans precise cues. (The eyes, I suspect, which from the audience I could not see.) I had only experienced the first half of the Prokofiev evening, “Suite from ROMEO AND JULIET,” at the ballet, where I find it just okay. Shorn of dancers and decor, the work seemed aimless. The program’s second half, the Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, also wandered, but in directions that kept me engaged. The playing was marvelous, and the Chicago’s vaunted brass section thrilling. I can see why the Chicago scores higher than the Boston in those silly rankings of orchestras (richer strings, real oomph), but I enjoyed myself more at the latter’s performance. I have see Nelsons, the Boston’s music director, only once, and retain little memory. This time, he impressed. Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor may have been a show piece for pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, but Nelsons kept the work’s “Song of Norway” goopiness from curdling. Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G Major may not have had Bernstein’s spirituality or aerobic bounce, but Nelsons did a terrific job of keeping the performance together. Genia Kuhmeier was a lovely, and lovely voiced, soloist in the final movement.

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