The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by maestro Riccardo Muti | Credit: Todd Rosenberg

Although we have just tiptoed into the new year, culturally and otherwise, it is reasonable to report that last week’s visit from the stellar Chicago Symphony Orchestra may have been the classical event of the year in town. At very least, the evening should grab the brass ring in the orchestral division, earning special points for this being the swan song season of legendary maestro Riccardo Muti at the helm, and in the house of the Granada Theatre.

Competition rankings and sports-like punditry aside (where they belong), what happens with the CSO and what places it in such a high ranking among the world’s orchestras is its deep and moving musicality. Muti, still spry and on target at age 81, led the august orchestra in a fully satisfying program, making an even stronger impact then when CAMA brought the orchestra here back in 2017.

Last week, we got a double dose of Beethoven — the vibrant and lesser performed Coraline overture and that great underdog, the Symphony No. 8 — before intermission. While some Beethoven observers pass over the eighth for its ostensibly “light” character, perhaps blinded by the dramatic gravitas of the ninth and other popular destinations along the Beethoven symphonic highway, this rich and sometimes delightfully eccentric opus comes alive in a way unique unto itself. Muti obviously recognizes that secret charm and power and conveyed it through his orchestral charges.  

The concert’s second half sprang to life in multiple directions and moods, courtesy of Ravel’s fantastical orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, heard here in a hyper-pictorial and rippling, precise reading. And from the more obscure corners of the orchestral repertoire came the sweetly impressionistic wash of Anatoly Lyadov’s The Enchanted Lake — with its Ravel-like sonorities — and as a final romantic bonbon, an encore of the Intermezzo from Umberto’s Giordano’s opera Fedora. Muti, ever the champion of musical causes he believes in, teasingly urged the audience (and myself, when I briefly met him backstage), to get to know Fedora. Message and mission duly delivered, from an eminent and wise source.

Outside the theater, I was asked to offer my opinion of the evening in five words. After hemming and hawing, the words came to me: “everything in its right place.”

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