BEETHOVEN FESTIVAL PARK CITY, Park City Community Church, July 16; festival runs through Aug. 3; for ticket and program information log on to www.beethovenfestivalparkcity.org

Last year the Beethoven Festival Park City invited the Dalí Quartet to help celebrate its 30th anniversary. The quartet was such a big hit with audiences that festival co-directors Leslie and Russell Harlow decided to bring them back this year for another series of concerts.

The Dalí Quartet (violinists Simon Gollo and Carlos Rubio; violist Adriana Linares; and cellist Jesús Morales) is a remarkable ensemble; it’s a true crossover group in the best sense of the word. Made up entirely of Hispanic musicians who are proud of their roots, they bring together the best music by Latin American and European composers. The result is a rare treat for everyone.

At Thursday’s concert the foursome gave a spectacular performance of works by the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos and the German Felix Mendelssohn. They also threw three shorter pieces by two other 20th century Latin American composers into the mix that turned this program into an evening of musical magic.

They opened the concert with Villa-Lobos’ First Quartet. One of the most significant Latin American composers of the 20th century, Villa-Lobos’ music deftly blends European classical idioms with the folk traditions of his native country, and consequently brings a fresh perspective to tried and true forms.

The First Quartet consists of six fairly short movements that span a wide range of expressions, from humorous to poignant. The Dalí brought out the distinctive characteristics of each movement  with their well crafted and executed playing. The livelier movements were played with a light touch, while the slower movements were imbued with depth of feeling and finely molded lyricism.

They followed the Villa-Lobos with two wonderfully contrasting fugues by the Venezuelan composer Juan Bautista Plaza: the Fuga Romántica and the Fuga Criolla (Creole Fugue). The former is a lushly vibrant piece while the latter is folksy and playful. Both exhibit a profound understanding of the Baroque fugue as developed and perfected by J.S. Bach, while at the same time incorporating new elements, and both were played with well delineated articulation and phrasings.

The other short piece on the program was an encore, Danzón Almendra by the Cuban Abelardo Valdés, arranged for string quartet by Morales. The four brought out the rhythmic vitality and appealing charm of this piece with their playful interpretation.

The only other large scale work on the program was Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 2 in B flat major, op. 87, in which violist Leslie Harlow joined the foursome.

Even though the quintet is a late work, it still retains the youthful vigor and joyful innocence that characterizes the majority of Mendelssohn’s music. And the five players certainly made the most of it, with their exuberant and decidedly invigorating reading. Their playing exhibited an abundance of finely expressed lyricism and fluid phrasings that underscored the mood of the work. There is hardly ever a dull moment in Mendelssohn’s music, and the Dalí and Harlow made sure that the infectious good nature of the quintet came through.


UTOPIA EARLY MUSIC, “New Song: A Musical Reformation,” St. Mark’s Cathedral, July 2

Early music ensembles have an inherent problem: How can they appeal to audiences, who, if they even think about early music, envision robed monks singing Gregorian Chant in ancient, musty churches?

There are, to be sure, quite a few groups in the United States today that specialize in music of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Baroque with varying degrees of success. In Salt Lake City, there is Utopia Early Music, an ensemble founded several years ago that takes a rather liberal approach to what “early music” is all about. The group includes in its repertoire some of the earliest examples of Western art music (Gregorian Chant) but also embraces the music of colonial America. And they sing this repertoire with refreshing enthusiasm and robustness that give these works, which are mostly unknown to modern audiences, new life.

Thursday, Utopia presented an interestingly arranged program that juxtaposed Protestant and Catholic traditions, and that also showed how they’re related to each other. Protestants naturally had no musical tradition of their own at the time of the Reformation. By borrowing heavily from the Catholics they quickly developed their own distinctive music to be used in their services. Most of these live on today as hymns sung by the congregation. Four of these hymns were incorporated into the program, with the audience encouraged to sing along with the performers.

With very few exceptions, the composers of the pieces on the program are relatively unknown today, although many of whom wrote some exquisite music. A fine example of that is Heinrich Isaac’s secular “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen,” the tune of which Michael Praetorius (best known today for his set of dances called Terpsichore) much later took and set to the sacred text, “O Welt, ich muss dich lassen.”

Known composers on the program included the Englishmen William Byrd and Thomas Tallis (remembered today for the tune he wrote that Ralph Vaughan Williams used for a set of variations) and the greatest of the Lutheran composers of the Baroque, J.S. Bach.

Joining Utopia co-founder and tenor Christopher LeCluyse Thursday were three other local singers: soprano Melissa Heath, mezzo-soprano Aubrey Adams-McMillan and baritone Michael Chipman. They sang with richness and resonance and blended wonderfully together as an ensemble.

They were joined by a quartet of area string players: Alexander Woods and Aubrey Woods, violin; Leslie Richards, viola; and Eleanor Christman Cox, Baroque cello. Rounding out the instrumental ensemble was guest organist Jonathan Rhodes Lee. All brought finely crafted expressions and feeling, as well as remarkable fluidity to their playing.