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CSO and Muti conjure up magic in season opener

9/20/12 8:50:14 PM -- Music Director Riccardo Muti conducts Chicago Symphony OrchestrDvor·k's  Symphony No. 5  during opening CSO's

9/20/12 8:50:14 PM -- Music Director Riccardo Muti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Dvor·k's Symphony No. 5 during the opening of the CSO's 2012/13 season at Orchestra Hall. © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2012 MUST CREDIT PHOTO, PLS!

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When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Wednesday

Where: Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan

Tickets: $34-$215

Info: (312) 294-3000;

Updated: October 23, 2012 6:07AM

Riccardo Muti made clear before a full house Thursday night at Symphony Center that with the start of his third season as Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director, he is fully at home here.

He knows the orchestra well and is comfortable with them at home and on tour, inside and outside. He’s appointed eight new players thus far, including top-flight principal clarinet and bass chairs and first-ever associate concertmaster. At 71, the maestro feels relaxed enough with audiences as well as performers to present his often unusual programming without apology or explanation.

So it is with this month’s first subscription concerts: Dvorak’s first published symphony, not heard here in nine years; Giuseppe Martucci’s turn-of-the-last-century gem of a notturno, last played by the CSO here more than half a century ago, and Respighi’s “Roman Festivals,” a Technicolor film score from before the time of either Technicolor or film scores and performed here most recently in 1985.

All works that Muti loves, they eventually re-enter the repertoire of any orchestra he regularly works with. He knows that they require some salesmanship; he also knows that the best way to do this is to play the works sensitively, with great respect, and let them then sell themselves.

The 1875 Dvorak F Major Symphony (now identified as No. 5) might have impressed some audience members as being of only historical interest. I’d agree with Muti that the 40-minute work belongs in the repertoire to show us where Dvorak would go in his more famous works that followed but also where he already was at 35. The allegro motto finale offered beautiful solo opportunities, too, for bass clarinet J. Lawrie Bloom, clarinet Stephen Williamson and oboe Eugene Izotov.

Muti led the Martucci as a CSO encore in Lucerne in 2011; it is the sort of gentle miniature, just six minutes, that he can make seem as important as any major composition. Respighi, Martucci’s student (and the teacher of Muti’s own teacher, Nino Rota) went in the other, maximalist direction. In warm and humorous remarks, Muti admitted that of all of Respighi’s popular tone poems, the “Roman Festivals” can sound the most “strange, loud, vulgar.” But that’s because “this is Roma!” By dialing up the expanded forces — 10 percussionists! A mandolin solo! Piano and organ! — only when they should be, he actually made this oft-dismissed work sound like the music that it might really be. Such is the magic of Muti.

Andrew Patner is critic at large at WFMT-FM (98.7).

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