There may be no better way to start off a long holiday weekend in Austria than at the Festival with the Vienna Phlharmonic. They played this morning’s concert under the baton of Riccardo Muti. The choice of works seemed uncharacteristic for him (Richard Strauss and Anton Bruckner), but the program soon made sense once underway.
The Strauss selection was his suite of incidental music from Der Bürger als Edelmann, which he originally composed for an (unsuccessful) collaboration with dramatist Hugo von Hofmannsthal and producer Max Reinhardt to update Molière’s comedy Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. The experiment may have failed, but the component parts were all put to other uses, and Strauss made a suite of the incidental music. Set for a modern chamber orchestra, the music paid homage to the composer of the incidental music to the original production of Molière’s play: Gianbattista Lulli (a.k.a. Jean-Baptiste Lully), Italian composer in the court of French King Louis XIV. And it was this aspect that Muti emphasized, providing us a neo-Baroque setting with recognizably Straussian colors. That this music served a comedy was not lost, despite the lack of words, as Muti and the orchestra performed full of humor.
Muti may not be known as a conductor of Bruckner, but he is known for Schubert, whose music heavily influenced Bruckner. Bruckner’s Second Symphony, a relatively early work in his symphonic canon (albeit he was already 48 when he wrote the first version), in many ways builds on Schubert’s Ninth and takes the next logical step in the development of the Symphony. Not yet a great cathedral of sound such as the ones that Bruckner would build in his subsequent work, it may instead represent an abbey. Muti drew out the underlying Schubertian structure, to which Bruckner had affixed flying buttresses. And with that, Muti and the Philharmoniker made sense of this symphony.