Riccardo Chailly’s ‘Music – A journey for life’

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COMPOSERS: Riccardo Chailly
LABELS: Accentus Music
ALBUM TITLE: Riccardo Chailly
WORKS: Music – A journey for life
PERFORMER: Lars Vogt (piano); Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Riccardo Chailly; dir. Paul Smaczny
CATALOGUE NO: Accentus Music ACC20254

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In the Swiss Alps, removed from the pressures of most musicians’ lives, alone with his scores, the maestro conjures his interpretation, then descends, Moses-like, to share it with his adoring orchestra and extremely well-heeled audience. So opens Paul Smaczny’s film, with all the hushed reverence of an old-fashioned biopic. But then Riccardo Chailly is an old-fashioned maestro with a CV to match: brought up in La Scala, where his father was artistic director, he was assistant to Claudio Abbado (whose shoes he’s stepped into at the Lucerne Festival) and marked out by Herbert von Karajan himself. He follows in a line of fiery, operatic Italians who have found fulfilment in German orchestras, whose unique offering, as Chailly puts it, is ‘room for development’. For which read time, space, cash and – above all – seriousness of purpose.

Yet out of all this lofty complacency emerges a warm and funny man. We see his grandchildren use him as a climbing frame and punch bag, beat him at cards, and join him in raucous bouts of bad blues at the piano. He acknowledges the almost impossibly difficult role of his clearly-loved wife and says, ruefully, aged 62, ‘I feel we are reaching an understanding’. When the camera catches him smiling at a player, it’s dazzling. There’s a moment in Lars Vogt’s punchy performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto where the pianist careers down the keyboard and almost falls off his stool, arms outstretched, laughing. Chailly’s insights into the ‘unrepeatable cult of tradition’ in Leipzig are resonant, and, in tantalising glimpses of a Ravel rehearsal with pianist Hélène Grimaud, you can hear realised his vision of ‘hearing through the lines’ of the score. He articulates well the systems of hierarchy into which he was born, raised and now lives. But there’s something remarkably relaxed about a conductor who can say ‘the larger the orchestra, the more creative it is’.

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Helen Wallace