Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is a major undertaking for any orchestra and chorus, not just for community ensembles. The work places huge demands on both the instrumentalists and singers, but that didn’t stop Robert Baldwin from programming it this season with his Salt Lake Symphony. And the performance Saturday with Utah Voices proved that not only the orchestra, but also the chorus, was more than up to the challenge. This is the third time the two groups have joined forces and it’s certainly a collaboration worth continuing. The two work well together.
Baldwin showed a solid grasp of the Ninth. He knew what he wanted – he had a vision for the work and conveyed it to his players. It was a textured, balanced and cohesive account that picked up on and emphasized the work’s nuances and orchestral colors.
In the opening movement, Baldwin chose an overall tempo that wasn’t too fast and which allowed for an expansive development of the themes. But he also managed to capture the power and drama of the music. This carried over into the second movement scherzo, which wasn’t taken at an overly speedy tempo. All too often conductors fall into the trap of taking this movement at a tempo that’s detrimental to bringing out the many layers of the music. This was a nuanced account that was well played and executed.
The slow movement was gorgeously laid out and developed. Baldwin was actually able to cast an otherworldly mood over the music that underscored its eloquent expressiveness.
The finale can be tricky for a conductor since there are so many different elements at work. But Baldwin once again showed his complete understanding of the movement and had a solid handle on everything. The music flowed seamlessly throughout the different sections.
Utah Voices gave a remarkable performance. They sang with resonance and brought depth and dimension to their part. It was a well crafted and executed account.
The four soloists also acquitted themselves wonderfully. University of Utah colleagues Kirsten Gunlogson, mezzo-soprano, and Robert Breault, tenor, were joined by Jennifer Larson, soprano, and Steven Meredith, baritone. They sang with lyricism and feeling and sounded exceptionally well together as a quartet.
The concert opened with the Gloria movement from Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis conducted by Utah Voices music director Michael Huff.