UTAH SYMPHONY, Abravanel Hall, April 19; second performance 8 p.m. April 20, tickets at 801-355-2787, 888-451-2787 or www.utahsymphony.org
It was another week of Tchaikovsky and Schoenberg, but this time with a twist. Unfortunately, pianist Louis Lortie (who had been scheduled to perform an ambitious concert of all three Tchaikovsky piano concertos) had to cancel his performance due to illness. Of course, the orchestra and music director Thierry Fischer, who conducted, went to Plan B, replacing two of the concerti with two pieces by Tchaikovsky: the suite from Sleeping Beauty and Capriccio italien. The rest of the program remained the same, with pianist Conrad Tao presenting the First Piano Concerto, and Schoenberg’s Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scenerounding out the program.
The orchestra, after achieving a particularly strong performance last week was once again in top form, despite the change in the planned program. The evening started with music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet, Sleeping Beauty. This particular score was published posthumously by the composer’s publisher and close friend Pyotr Jurgenson. The arrangement of the music was excellent: always engaging, with interesting structural elements and bold orchestrations. The orchestra’s performance of the music was appealing, fresh and precise.
Next was Schoenberg’s Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene. Dating from 1929, Schoenberg was adamant that his music should not be limited by another artist’s formal framework. Because of this, if the work is truly meant to accompany cinematic scenes, those scenes must have existed only in the composer’s mind, as there are no known films the music was meant to accompany. The work, meant to convey the emotions of its three subtitles Threatening Danger, Fea, and Catastrophe, certainly creates moods appropriate for each title, which the orchestra managed to deliver. The music was deeply complex and intense.
The concert closed with Tao performing Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. Tao is a young pianist with an impressive technique and a polished tone. Performing on a newly acquired Steinway piano, the balance between soloist and orchestra was impeccable. The concerto is still the most popular of Tchaikovsky’s three. With a powerful introduction, memorable themes, and a fluid orchestration it’s an easy work to admire. Tao’s performance was impressive in its technical mastery, and the orchestra and soloist worked incredibly well together. The audience was clearly pleased by the performance, and Tao was gracious enough to offer up a dazzling encore: the last movement from Prokofiev’s Seventh Piano Sonata.
The Utah Symphony is proving to be a remarkable group of professionals. Despite the changes to the program, the orchestra managed to turn in another polished performance.