Sometimes, blessedly, music is still about quality over hype, talent over self-importance -- Milan's Orchestra Sinfonica Verdi a case in question. The most successful -- in terms of ticket sales -- symphony orchestra in Italy that more often than not manages to fill to almost full capacity the warm, sleek confines of Auditorium di Milano, the modern, coolly-designed concert hall privately owned by the orchestra (another exception to the Italian rule), la Verdi is all about music over anything else (including political connections, the lack of which makes them a traditionally, and shamefully, underfunded-by-the-govt institution). If you add to all this the very real fact that "La Verdi" as we call it here, has very humane prices -- as opposed to painfully overpriced la Scala -- it's easy to understand how this orchestra has quickly become very dear to Opera chic's heart.
Last night represented the Verdi's recipe at its best -- if this orchestra were a beverage, it'd be like Honest Tea -- freshly brewed, no corn syrup, no preservatives. The program -- under the steady, elegant baton of American maestro John Axelrod -- started out with Franz Schubert, specifically Luciano Berio's notations of the flowing passages and daring harmonic ebbs of Schubert's "10th Symphony", a bare-bones sketch of the artist's symphonic shadows in three movements. Allegro started off a bit shaky as the Orchestra found their footing in the mellow hall, but they quickly regained their confidence under the charismatic & well-mannered baton of W. Axl Rod (looking dandy in his black nehru & fingerwaved hair). Allegro, Andante, Allegro converged splendidly in a gliding & malleable sound, experted coaxed by Axelrod, who painted a colorful narrative through the three movements.
Next dish was administered via the efficient package of a petite, wispy, young Korean cellist, Han-Na Chang. Skinny arms and all, she liberated a controlled storm of fierce sound from her cello. For Elgar's Concerto per violoncello and orchestra in C minor, op. 85, Ms. Chang's instrument and pulse breathed beautifully, her collaboration with Axelrod was unrestrained, the two happily playing off each other's idiosyncrasies.
Arnold Schönberg's arrangement for Brahms Quartetto for piano and strings n.1 in G minor op.25 displayed Axelrod's charm and control. Easily shifting from a sweet, caressing legato to a breakneck run, the soloists made easy work of the arrangement -- Axelrod's Brahms is far from the stereotype of the melancholy, somewhat remote composer of cameristic gloom, it's instead a lively, excited, curious Brahms. His Brahms is here, now, not already lost in musical space -- here but always with that unforgettable sadness pumping through his veins. The American maestro (whom we heard last here in Milan on the podium of la Scala for Candide) proved his Bernstein-worthy legacy by channeling a familiar Lenny flavor. Dynamically painted in color, the gorgeous sound flowed naturally from the orchestra (despite the notoriously tight rehearsal schedule of the hard-working Verdi).
O.C. recommends those in Milan (and the outskirts) to haul themselves over to Auditorium di Milano tonight, Friday, February 6th -or- Sunday, February 7th (4pm show), where Axelrod -- and the Orchestra Verdi -- may be generous enough to repeat the delicate magic we witnessed last night.