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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Midsummer Night's Dream




Moscow has yet to discover the concept of the urban summer music festival, which means that its concert halls and opera houses are silent for most of the summer. But that silence was resoundingly shattered Monday night at the Bolshoi Theater when its chorus and orchestra joined those of La Scala, Milan, in a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, op. 125, conducted by Riccardo Muti.


It was a repeat performance of a concert given the night before at the Ravenna Festival on the Adriatic coast of Italy. The Bolshoi's opera troupe was a festival guest this year, taking over from St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater, which had performed there in past seasons. Last week, the Bolshoi offered Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Golden Cockerel," just when Muti and the New York Philharmonic jointly announced that, despite a lengthy courtship, Muti would not become the Philharmonic's next music director.


It was said that he could not devote sufficient time to the Philharmonic in light of his commitments as artistic director of La Scala. It's less well known that he is also an important presence at the Ravenna Festival, where he regularly indulges his passion for out-of-the way Italian operatic repertory.


For sheer numbers, this was a Ninth unlike any you're ever likely to hear. The combined orchestras numbered around 140 players and the choruses were of a size to match.


Either company, of course, could have performed the symphony perfectly well on its own. And it is to Muti's credit that the unusual numbers never translated into an aberrant sound. The string complement simply seemed uncommonly rich, with an extra layer of cushioning.


There were, however, a few times when the sheer size of the sound really took hold. It was a tremendous moment, for instance, when the dozen or so double basses and the huge cello section launched into the recitative of the last movement, then followed it up with a tellingly hushed initial statement of the main theme.


The size of the amassed forces also gave the event an extra measure of visceral excitement, never a scarce commodity with Muti in any event. Yet the vast first movement also demonstrated the formal clarity of Muti's Beethoven, with structural goals clearly defined and all the fine details, down to the last crisply dottedrhythm, allotted their place in the scheme.


Muti's characteristic drive made the scherzo bristle with intensity. If only he had balanced the verve there with a deeper look into the slow movement. But he showed more concern for forward propulsion than for shaping phrases into the expressive statements that can make this movement profoundly spellbinding.


In the last movement, though, Muti managed his vast forces to thrilling effect, while never allowing Beethoven's setting of Schiller's lofty "Ode to Joy" to sound inflated or the least bit pompous.


The movement also brought a simply gorgeous choral sound. What else can be said about these two choruses? You can also take it for granted that with these opera companies the vocal soloists would be of the top rank. And this quartet, consisting of Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, Russian contralto Larisa Diadkova, Italian tenor Giuseppe Sabbatini and British bass Alastair Miles, performed royally.


Muti's conducting sometimes draws mixed reactions, and his 12-year tenure with the Philadelphia Orchestra may not be recalled as one of the great conductor-orchestra partnerships. But if there were any New Yorkers in the audience, they would have surely regretted that this charismatic, intensely musical won't soon be enlivening the New York musical scene.