UTAH SYMPHONY, Abravanel Hall, April 18; second performance 8 p.m. April 19, tickets at 801-355-2787, 888-451-2787 or www.utahsymphony.org
The Utah Symphony’s mastery of the classical style as of late has been quite impressive. It sounds incredibly focused with defined, meticulous movement, expertly wielded dynamics, and long stretches of impeccable, if not inspiring, intonation. Friday night, Haydn’s opening to The Creation, titled The Representation of Chaos sounded clean, intense, and restrained. The performance benefited from particularly strong opening and closing sections.
Scottish percussionist Colin Currie made a reappearance with the symphony, taking on works by Elliott Carter and collaborating with principal keyboardist Jason Hardink. Currie’s previous appearance with the symphony left the Abravanel Hall audience divided in its response to Christopher Rouse’s piece Alberich Saved, with a sizable portion of the audience sounding rather discontented at the conclusion of the performance. This time, with the Carter, things were different.
Carter’s music is outstanding. Using an atonal setting, Carter’s style is unique and unmistakably polished and individual. The texture is always carefully crafted and often economical in its density. Currie’s solo marimba technique was practically flawless during Figment V, which made use of the entire range of the magnificent instrument. In Two Controversies and a Conversation, Currie and Hardink conversed using musical fragments of varying lengths and levels of complexity. The orchestra handled its accompaniment with the necessary reservation, and the musical phrases emerged from the stage with refinement and craft.
Perhaps Carter’s music is more accessible than Rouse’s, or perhaps the audience has begun to better appreciate more diverse means of musical expression after being regularly exposed to the music of the 20th and 21st centuries during Thierry Fischer’s tenure. At any rate, it was good to see that the audience was delighted by Carter, Currie, Hardink and Fischer’s orchestra.
Mahler’s epic Fifth Symphony concluded the program. The music was often brooding and intense, with an incredible dynamic range. In spite of the challenges the score presented, including a 70 minute length and several technically difficult passages, the orchestra performed with the usual high level of professionalism and attention to detail that has been characteristic of the Fischer baton.