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Philadelphians Play Dvorak

June 05, 1986|ALBERT GOLDBERG

The Philadelphia Orchestra and its inexhaustible conductor, Riccardo Muti, would certainly have seemed entitled to a bit of relaxation at the third and last of their series of concerts in Ambassador Auditorium on Tuesday night.

But relaxation in this connection would be an inappropriate term. The word exists only momentarily for the Philadelphians, and both playing and conducting were at their accustomed peak of intensity throughout the event. And there was still enough vitality on tap to resurrect a forgotten 19th-Century symphony and make it sound close to a masterwork.

This would be Dvorak's Symphony No. 5 in F, composed in 1875. In the revised chronological ordering this actually is the composer's fifth symphony, a numbering previously reserved for the "New World" before historians set matters right. In the old numbering this No. 5 was known as No. 3.

The work is plainly Dvorak, not at his most inspired, but still brimming with irresistible melody, catchy Czech rhythms and endlessly ingenious orchestration. It was the kind of challenge Muti and his musicians seem to delight in, and certainly no one is going to chide them for making the music sound more important than it intrinsically is. It was sufficient pleasure just to take it at its own value.

The magic the performers exerted on Beethoven's Fourth Symphony was possibly more legitimate and more remarkable. The night before, Muti had expostulated his idea of "big" Beethoven in the Fifth, now he turned his attention to "smaller" Beethoven. It was a lapidarian performance, bejeweled but never too ornate, miniature in design but vast in scope, always sparkling but never frivolous.

Muti is invariably the smooth navigator. Without any particular occasion to celebrate, he made Beethoven's "Die Weihe des Hauses" (Consecration of the House) Overture a ceremonial for all occasions.

And he shrewdly topped the program with the overture to Verdi's "Les vepres siciliennes" for an encore, in a manner that seemed to sum up all of Verdi and all of Italian opera in one grand gesture. It was an inflammatory performance and the audience responded in kind.

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