UTAH SYMPHONY, Abravanel Hall, Sept. 13; second performance Sept. 14, 8 p.m., tickets at 801-355-2787, 888-451-2787 or at www.utahsymphony.org
It used to be the Beaux Arts Trio – especially after violinist Isidore Cohen joined pianist Menahem Pressler and cellist Bernard Greenhouse – that other piano trios had to look up to and attempt to emulate. Now it’s the Philip Setzer/David Finckel/Wu Han triumvirate that is the standard bearer. Even though it’s a fairly new ensemble, the three have performed together in various configurations for decades (Setzer and Finckel were colleagues in the Emerson Quartet until Finckel stepped down at the end of last season); and as a trio they’ve released several CDs so far.
What sets them apart from other piano trios – and from other chamber ensembles in general – is their innate musicality and consummate artistry. Musicality, technique and a keen interpretative sense come together in their playing. They are at the top of their game and among the greatest chamber musicians today.
The three make their Utah Symphony debut this weekend in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, which they’re playing for the first time publicly at these concerts.
The Triple isn’t programmed very often and is a rather lightweight work. It doesn’t compare favorably to Beethoven’s last three piano concertos or the Violin Concerto. But exceptional musicians can make a mediocre work like this sound marvelous. And that is exactly what happened at Friday’s performance. The three gave a lustrous reading that was filled with nuance and subtlety and carefully shaded expressiveness. And they were supported by music director Thierry Fischer’s thoughtful and perceptive accompaniment that kept everything in balance. It was an extraordinary collaboration between soloists and conductor that made the music shine.
Setzer, Finckel and Wu Han made the most of the intricate interplay among the solo parts, especially in the finale. Everything was cleanly defined and articulated and well executed. The bravura writing was played with virtuosity and flair and the brief Largo was infused with fluid expressiveness. It was a memorable performance that elevated the Triple to a higher, more sophisticated, level.
The other major work on the program this weekend is Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 1 in G minor, which heralds the start of Fischer’s season long perusal of the Danish composer’s six symphonies.
Nielsen was just 29 when he wrote his first symphony, but there is nothing tentative about it. The work shows a composer who is self assured and not afraid to write boldly. The First quite frankly sets the stage for his creative output; one can already hear the mature composer in this early work.
Fischer conducted the work with large gestures that captured the sweeping lines of the music. His account was articulate, well thought out and brought out the drama and passion of the music, as well as its expansive lyricism and expressiveness.
The orchestra played magnificently, with precision and clarity and gave Fischer what he was after – a romantically conceived and executed reading that didn’t miss anything in terms of emotions and expressions.
Three short works opened the concert — a powerful account of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture; a poetic performance, with beautifully lyrical playing by the cello section, of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “The Swan” from The Carnival of the Animals, dedicated to the Utah Symphony’s late principal cello Ryan Selberg; and an expansive reading of “Forest Murmurs” from Richard Wagner’s Siegfried.