SALT LAKE SYMPHONY, Libby Gardner Concert Hall, Oct. 5

The Salt Lake Symphony is right at the top among community orchestras. What makes them standout is the dedication of the musicians. They play with a high degree of professionalism and they give their all at each concert. That makes music director Robert Baldwin’s job that much easier. It lets him refine and finesse their playing and that, consequently, translates into performances that are articulate, well expressed and nuanced. It’s always a pleasure hearing them play because of what they bring to their concerts.

Robert Baldwin

Baldwin and the orchestra opened their new season Saturday with an ambitious program that tested the mettle of the players. And, not surprisingly, they gave another stellar performance.

The program consisted of two monumental works: Johannes Brahms’ Double Concerto and Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 1.

Soloing in the Brahms were two Utah Symphony colleagues, concertmaster Ralph Matson and cellist John Eckstein. Together with the orchestra and Baldwin they gave a fabulous account that captured the power and majestic beauty of the work.

Matson and Eckstein are exceptional musicians who put their technical acumen and wonderful musicality on display. They played with polished expressiveness and eloquence and made the most of the intricate interplay between the two solo parts.

Baldwin’s tempos tended towards the leisurely, which worked quite well; it allowed the nuances and subtleties of the score to come through. Most importantly, he let the music speak for itself.

The same was also true for Sibelius’ symphony. The First is an unashamedly romantic work and Baldwin focused on that in his interpretation. His reading was bold and impassioned. He elicited a dynamic performance from his forces that was also very articulate and well defined and executed with clean lines and precision.

Each of the orchestra’s sections played with conviction and wonderfully sculpted expression. There were also some notable solo moments, particularly the gorgeous opening to the first movement played by principal clarinet Cheryl Ann Blackley.

The concert opened with Utah composer Henry Wolking’s rousing Salt Lake Overture, a work commissioned by the Salt Lake Symphony in 2002. The piece is bright, sunny and upbeat. There are a lot of different elements at work here, but Wolking pulls everything together cleverly, and in the manner in which the orchestra played it the piece absolutely sparkled.

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About Edward Reichel

Edward Reichel, author, writer and composer, has been covering the classical music scene in Utah since 1997. For many years he served as the primary music critic for the Deseret News. He has also written for a number of publications, including Chamber Music Magazine, OPERA Magazine, 15 Bytes, Park City Magazine and Salt Lake Magazine. He holds a Ph.D. in composition from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He can be reached at Reichel Recommends is also on Twitter @ReichelArts.

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