It was less than a week ago that the Los Angeles Dodgers sent the Chicago Cubs packing in their play-offs for the World Series. But on Sunday night the City of Angels received another team from the Windy City, this time with open arms. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra under its Music Director Riccardo Muti were the guest artists at Walt Disney Hall. Their appearance marked the final stop on their 2017 West Coast tour, preceded by performances in San Francisco, San Diego and Santa Barbara.

Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony at Disney Hall © Todd Rosenberg Photography
Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony at Disney Hall
© Todd Rosenberg Photography

Both orchestra and conductor have long been strangers in Los Angeles, with the Chicago Symphony not having visited in over a decade, and Muti not stepping foot before Southern Californian audienes since the 1980s. Things have changed for both since they last were heard here, yet much remained as ever as their performances of Brahms' Second and Third Symphonies demonstrated. 

Today's Chicago Symphony retains the roof-raising power of its brass, which pinned the Disney Hall audience members to their seats in the closing bars of the Second, as well as the lauded precision that made the ensemble a world-beater since the days of Frederick Stock. The latter quality was elegant, displayed in the textures the transparent, yet gauzy textures of the first movement of the Third (delivered with its exposition repeat scrupulously repeated, as it was its counterpart in the Second). But post-Barenboim, the orchestra now has a blended tone that harkens to the orchestras of Dresden and Leipzig.

Likewise, Muti in his earlier days was known for conjuring razor-sharp rhythms and a collective sound like polished steel from his orchestras. But it was mellowed bronze, rather than gleaming steel that he drew from the Chicagoans on Sunday, with the expansive opening movement of Brahms' Second gaining much from the warmth of this united vision between orchestra and conductor. To that bronze was added the lustre of the silvery oboe of Alexander Vvedenskiy, who was sitting in as principal for this performance.

Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony at Disney Hall © Todd Rosenberg Photography
Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony at Disney Hall
© Todd Rosenberg Photography

And it's that unity of approach, this sense that each – Chicago Symphony and Muti, Muti and Chicago Symphony – exhibited that is telling of the greatest collaborations in the symphonic world. The sense that orchestra and conductor blend seamlessly into the other, with each being the extension of the other.

Qualms about the conservativeness of the program aside, the concert was a vivid testimonial to the brilliance of the Chicago/Muti partnership. And with all due respect to the home team, the Chicago collaboration may possibly be the most musically satisfying in the rarefied air of the top American orchestras of today.

The audience's warm reception of the program was duly rewarded with an encore by way of a sweet and touchingly elegiac reading of the "Entr'acte no. 3" from Schubert's incidental music to Rosamunde. He preceded the performance with words directed to the audience expressing his hope that both he and the orchestra would return sooner than later to Los Angeles. Here's to hoping that they keep their word.

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