Pianist brings poetic touch to Chopin with Oundjian, Utah Symphony

Sat Jan 12, 2019 at 11:29 am
By Edward Reichel

Jan Lisiecki performed Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Utah Symphony Friday night at Abravanel Hall. Photo: Kathleen Sykes

Jan Lisiecki has been making waves on the international music scene in recent years, performing with major orchestras and signing an exclusive recording deal with Deutsche Grammophon.

Friday night in his Utah Symphony debut, the young Canadian pianist showed Salt Lake City concertgoers what makes him such a remarkable artist, with conductor Peter Oundjian leading the orchestra at Abravanel Hall.

Lisieki has recorded both Chopin concertos for DG, and playing the Polish composer’s Piano Concerto No. 1, it immediately became apparent that his artistic maturity goes well beyond his 23 years. The soloist brought a notable depth of expression to this familiar work as well as a keen sense of individual interpretation. Straight from the start he indulged the audience with supple, beautifully phrased lines and attention to the minutest details. He captured the romanticism of the music without overplaying and made the virtuosity writing of the outer movements seem easy.

The opening movement sways between the bold dramatic outbursts from the orchestra and the tender lyricism of the piano passages. Lisiecki consistently underscored the beauty of the melodic lines with his thoughtful, delicately carved playing. The same held true for the second movement; here Lisiecki played with striking sensitivity that made the music seem almost ethereal. The finale was given a lighthearted treatment that showed off the young pianist’s nimble playing and subtle expressiveness.

Chopin of course was a master of the piano, but not so much of the orchestra. Yet Oundjian, making a return visit to Abravanel Hall after many years’ absence, proved a superb partner for his fellow Canadian, bringing nuanced and perceptive support that brought Chopin’s music to life.

For an encore, Lisiecki gave an evocative and delicately reading of Schumann’s Träumerei.

The concert opened with Dust Devils by the contemporary Canadian composer Vivian Fung. This 10-minute orchestral piece flitters about like dust motes without ever actually landing on anything. The piece is really no more than an exercise in noisy style over substance. There are some nice orchestral colors, to be sure, but there is little cohesion in its frenetic, nonstop ramblings.

Peter Oundjian conducted the Utah Symphony Friday night at Abravanel Hall. Photo: Kathleen Sykes

Closing out the concert was Dvorák’s magnificent Symphony No. 7. 

Oundjian is a conductor who knows what he wants and who has the means to get the orchestra to fully respond to his direction. The conductor captured the dark, brooding character of the opening movement with large gestures that underscored the broad, sweeping lines of the music. This was a bold, compelling and emotionally charged reading that was nevertheless nuanced in its expression and detailing.

The slow movement unfolded languidly until the mood was broken by short outbursts reminiscent of the first movement. But Oundjian kept everything finely balanced, with the horns in especially fine form.

Oundjian brought a nicely crafted lilt to his account of the Scherzo, which was rhythmically vivacious without shorting its drama. The final movement received a decisive, robust reading that propelled the music forward with relentless drive in a dramatic and vibrant end to the evening.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Abravanel Hall. utahsymphony.org; 801-355-2787.


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