As it turned out, 2012 had a bumper crop of wonderful concerts. So many, in fact, that it was a challenge coming up with a Top 10 list. That’s why we decided to expand our end of the year listing to 15. Even so, we had to make some difficult decisions.
Having so many fabulous concerts to choose from shows that the performing arts are far from dying out in Utah. They are a vibrant and vital part of our community.
This year, the Utah Symphony tops the list with four concerts. Music director Thierry Fischer has made good on his promise to raise the artistic bar and his efforts have paid off. This is not the same Utah Symphony of only a few years ago. This is a Utah Symphony that’s well on its way to making a name for itself nationally – and, hopefully, internationally in a few years.
The Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City is also well represented again. This year we’re including three of their concerts. The society consistently brings in the best internationally acclaimed chamber music ensembles every year and those of us who love chamber music – as we at Reichel Recommends do – appreciate this.
Below is our list of top concerts for 2012. As in the past, we’re listing them chronologically.
- Janina Fialkowska – The Canadian pianist performed in Salt Lake City in February as part of the Virtuoso Series. She brought with her a wonderful program of Schubert, Liszt and Chopin and showed that she ranks among the elite as a formidable exponent of 19th century repertoire.
- Pavel Haas Quartet – Part of the Chamber Music Society’s season, the Czech ensemble dazzled the audience with its perceptive and nuanced playing of Smetana, Schubert and Dvorak.
- Bernard Labadie/Utah Symphony – In April, conductor Bernard Labadie made a long overdue return visit to the Utah Symphony. One of the top interpreters of 18th century music, Labadie brought his formidable interpretative skills to bear in a dramatic reading of Mozart’s Requiem (in Robert Levin’s completion).
- Salt Lake Choral Artists – Also in April, Brady Allred’s vocal ensemble, with orchestra, gave a rare performance of Ernest Bloch’s moving Avodath Hakodesh. A pivotal work in Bloch’s output, Allred and his singers forcefully captured the work’s spirituality and eloquence.
- Utah Opera – After presenting a number of rather humdrum performances over the past few seasons, Utah Opera scored big this year with Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men. With a cast led by up and coming heldentenor Corey Bix as the mentally challenged Lennie, and with James Lowe in the pit, and direction by Kristine McIntyre, this production showed that Utah Opera still can come up with a winner.
- Thierry Fischer/Utah Symphony – For the symphony’s final concert of the 2011-12 season, Thierry Fischer paired Beethoven’s classically oriented First Symphony with Richard Strauss’ monumental Eine Alpensinfonie. It proved to be a good combination. While Strauss’ work wasn’t flawlessly executed, the orchestra played with passion and feeling that did the music justice but was never overblown or excessive. And Fischer made sure the Beethoven was given a classical treatment, with a minimum of vibrato and with clarity and cleanly defined phrasing.
- American Festival Chorus – Craig Jessop is without doubt one of the most perceptive choral conductors today. During his tenure as music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir he brought back the richness of sound that characterized the ensemble during its golden age. And as music director of Logan’s American Festival Chorus Jessop took a small regional choir and turned it into one of Utah’s most respected vocal ensembles. Their performance of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion last August was a study in subtlety and nuance and powerful for its emotional expressiveness.
- Hasse Borup/Heather Conner – The University of Utah’s violin and piano duo of Hasse Borup and Heather Conner has given several notable recitals in the last few years. Their most recent outing was an all-Persichetti program that included the world premiere of a hitherto lost sonata. The two are exceptional musicians in their own right and together they bring new meaning to ensemble play.
- Lang Lang – The mega pianist returned to Utah in October after an absence of several years. The Chinese native’s playing has always been marked by clarity and articulation, and that was in full evidence at this recital. Lang Lang played a program of three early Mozart sonatas along with Chopin’s four ballades. And while there could have been some more variety in the Mozart selections, the ballades were all that you could have wished for in terms of expressiveness, sensitivity and finely wrought lyricism.
- Takács Quartet – The Chamber Music Society brought the Hungarian Takács Quartet back to Salt Lake City in October. Without a doubt the Takács can be considered the successors to the Budapest Quartet thanks to their consummate artistry and brilliant interpretative talents. Their account of Bartók’s Fourth Quartet was absolutely enthralling.
- Brigham Young University School of Music – Both the orchestra and opera programs at BYU have some wonderful talent. It’s always a pleasure driving down to Provo to attend a performance, and this fall there were two, both conducted by Kory Katseanes, that really stood out. In October, the opera department staged a fabulous production of Mozart’s glittering comedy Cosí fan tutte that showcased the school’s strong vocal talent. A couple of weeks later the BYU Philharmonic gave a stellar account of Mahler’s Third Symphony that underscored the professionalism of the members of this ensemble.
- Hilary Hahn/Utah Symphony – In November Hilary Hahn returned to the Utah Symphony, this time playing Korngold’s effervescent concerto. The 33-year-old violinist gave a stellar account of this melodic work, playing it as if it had been written for her. Thierry Fischer and the orchestra were also in top form, and the collaboration between them and Hahn was extraordinary.
- Brentano Quartet – Another one of today’s elite quartets, the Brentano has quite a reputation to live up to, and at its December concert in Salt Lake City, sponsored by the Chamber Music Society, the foursome proved they are indeed among the best. The concert featured Beethoven’s B flat Major Quartet, op. 130, with the Grosse Fuge finale. The Brentanos exhibited exceptional musicality in playing this epically proportioned work. It was a tour de force performance that was passionate and dynamic.
- Jun Märkl/Pascal Rogé/Utah Symphony – The final masterworks concert for the year featured guest conductor Jun Märkl and pianist Pascal Rogé in a program of Debussy and Ravel. Märkl, who has a fabulous career going for him in Europe, has developed into quite a remarkable interpreter of French repertoire. And nobody plays Ravel’s music better than Rogé. So having the two of them together on the same concert was an absolute feast.