Riccardo Muti is currently leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) on a European tour which includes 10 concerts in Cologne, Vienna, Luxembourg, Lugano, Paris and, in Italy, in Naples, Florence and Milan. The first Italian date was Naples (Muti's hometown), where three of the musicians of the CSO also participated, together with the Maestro, in a visit to the Nisida juvenile prison, which was one of the educational activities planned for the tour.

Riccardo Muti and the CSO in Naples
© Todd Rosenberg

The programme of the concert at the San Carlo Theatre included Prokofiev’s Suites from Romeo and Juliet and Dvořák’s Symphony no. 9, “From the New World”. Muti and the CSO – where he has been Music Director since 2010 – opened with a selection of ten pieces from both suites that Prokofiev drew from his ballet score.

In Romeo and Juliet fierce passions are mingled with some gentle ballet music and the sweet tenderness of the two young lovers. Accordingly, the CSO combined the delicate violins and the more aggressive lower strings with the outstanding sound of its legendary brass section, to produce the musical texture on which the woodwinds and percussion created amazing glees of orchestral colours.

It was a lithe, rousing performance that made this well-known music sound fresh and suggestive. Muti brought out heartfelt, nimble emotions in some of the pieces, impressive magniloquence in others. The closing, vehement chords were frightening and intense.

The performance of Czech composer Antonin Dvořák’s symphony “From the New World” was unsurprisingly successful too, with the outer movements Adagio-Allegro molto and Allegro con fuoco mostly glowing and lively. Here Muti showcased his usual attention to detail and the reliability of his interpretations, along with an extraordinarily dense tapestry of sounds.

In his career, Muti has always pursued the (ever-shifting) goal of perfection and text fidelity, and in Naples he addressed the “New World” symphony with an imposing, fervent but nonetheless chiseled approach.

At the end, after a long enthusiastic ovation, Muti offered as an encore the Intermezzo from Giordano’s opera Fedora: this allowed him to indulge in his passion for opera and for the composers of his beloved Neapolitan School. Giordano was not exactly from Naples, though, nor did he live in the 18th century – he was born in 1867 in another southern Italian town, Foggia – but it was the umpteenth occasion for Muti to declare his love for Naples and its music. The execution was quite remarkable but as a whole it felt more routine and less exceptional than the other pieces.

With their performance in Naples, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra showed why they deserve to be greeted as one of the greatest orchestras in the world, while Riccardo Muti confirmed himself as one of the most preeminent living conductors.