The Lucerne Festival Orchestra has long had close links with La Scala luminaries. Its predecessor was formed as an orchestra of elite players by La Scala's former music director Arturo Toscanini in 1938, and it was Claudio Abbado, another ex-La Scala MD, to found the LFO in its current incarnation. Riccardo Chailly has been in charge since 2015, the year in which he also accepted the top job at La Scala.

Riccardo Chailly conducts the Lucerne Festival Orchestra at La Scala © Brescia & Amisano | Teatro alla Scala
Riccardo Chailly conducts the Lucerne Festival Orchestra at La Scala
© Brescia & Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Remarkably, Chailly's concert with the LFO at La Scala was to mark the orchestra's first visit to the opera house. It was a fascinating prospect. Chailly has been a constant, if not hugely frequent, presence in Milan since becoming music director, and has greatly refined the sound of the orchestra in that time. If the Concertgebouw Orchestra's sound under Chailly was best characterised by its brilliance and clarity and that of the Leipzig Gewandhaus by its warmth and rusticity, the Filarmonica is developing Germanic depth and weightiness to add to its luminous strings and winds. How would the LFO compare?

While this performance sometimes lacked a magic touch, there is no doubting the orchestra's formidable technical skill. The La Scala programme, part of the orchestra's ongoing tour, is a revival of from last summer's Festival, and by now the first two works are clearly in the players' blood. Wagner's Overture to Rienzi got us off to a strong start, opening with a beautifully shaped trumpet call, string playing that was so soft it was barely audible and gorgeously balanced chords from the woodwinds. The flowing Italianate theme that follows allowed for full enjoyment of the strings' oaky, transparent sound. Wagner's brightly coloured score sparkled in Chailly's hands. The Overture to The Flying Dutchman provided high drama, the roaring opening theme on trumpets giving way to a raging depiction of the storm.

Riccardo Chailly and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra © Brescia & Amisano | Teatro alla Scala
Riccardo Chailly and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra
© Brescia & Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Bruckner's Seventh Symphony did not prove quite so impressive. Fail to inject the composer's cathedral-sized symphonic structures with a sense of rapt wonder and they can sound dull. Chailly's light and smooth interpretation was often graceful and precise, especially in the arching lines he drew out at the start. But the first movement felt too inhibited to make an impact: the soaring melodic theme lacked the sense of ecstatic abandon of more convincing interpretations, and switches between themes sounded mechanical. Acidic outbursts from the brass were lacking in bite and moments of searching introspection from the strings underwhelmed.

Greater emotional engagement was generally required. The long second movement Adagio works best when there is a magmatic, glowing intensity below the surface. That was missing here, and the gradual accumulation of tension this movement requires never materialised. The dirge on Wagner tubas was typically lacklustre, neatly sculpted but never evoking seething anguish. The muscular, strident third movement, which had promised to be strong Chailly territory, was taken at a jogging pace rather than the indicated Sehr schnell, which dampened excitement, while the Etwas langsamer needed to be let of the leash. Things got better in the finale, with scintillating strings and brass in the octave theme building to a blistering climax. But, when so much of what preceded had been below par, the overall result underwhelmed.

***11