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Concert Review

Salt Lake Symphony tackles Copland’s epic Third in style

Mon Nov 11, 2019 at 9:33 am
By Edward Reichel
Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3 was performed by the Salt Lake Symphony Saturday night.

The Salt Lake Symphony likes to tackle challenging works. And with some of the best local freelance musicians in the group the ensemble certainly has the technical and musical chops to pull them off.

For its concert Saturday in Libby Gardner Concert Hall guest conductor Gerald Elias led the ensemble in Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3. While other American composers who were Copland’s contemporaries wrote exceptional symphonies—notably William Schuman, Roy Harris and David Diamond—Copland’s Third overshadowed all of them and has become an American classic. 

To be sure, the Third has a lot going for it and is an imposing symphonic creation. The music has bold themes, grand gestures and pungent harmonies. But perhaps the most striking element of the work is how Copland incorporates his earlier Fanfare for the Common Man into the closing movement, which no doubt helped ensure the work’s popularity among concertgoers.        

The final movement, which flows seamlessly out of the closing measures of the third movement, with a softly intoned version of the fanfare played by the woodwinds, before bursting forth in its original form for brass and percussion, is a stroke of genius. This movement is the culmination of the entire symphony with this triumphant statement of the fanfare, much like the glorious C major triads that announce the finale of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The idea behind both is simple but powerful.

Elias, who has guest conducted the Salt Lake Symphony several times over the years, captured the immense scope of this movement with decisive direction that was forceful and dramatic. He conveyed his vision to the orchestra, who responded by playing with sweeping lines, nuanced dynamics and well-articulated expressions.

And in the preceding three movements Elias also showed his finely-wrought sense of interpretation. He captured the stately character of the opening movement with its soaring violin lines and the brass section’s sharp interruptions. He coaxed lucid playing from his ensemble, allowing them to move effortlessly from one thematic element to another.

The second movement was invigorating for the way in which Elias emphasized the energetic drive of the music and in the full-bodied sound he elicited from the players. Of note was principal oboe Hilary Coon’s lovely, wonderfully expressive.

solo.

The following Andantino offers some needed respite from the high energy of the other movements, and Elias understood what the music demands. He allowed the musicians to play with well-delineated, nuanced expression and coaxed a full rich sound. Even though the music is at times a bit brash, Elias nevertheless brought the underlying lyricism to the fore. 

The other larger work on the program Saturday was the Four Dances from Estancia by Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera. Directed by the symphony’s assistant conductor Matthew Makeever, the movements were given a rhythmically charged and vibrant reading that captured the robust character of each dance. His reading was vital and energetic and he got the orchestra to play with dynamic potency and nervous energy. 

The final Malambo, is a tour de force for the orchestra with its incessantly pounding rhythms and relentless drive. Makeever made the most of it and got the ensemble to play with definition and articulation that emphasized the frenzied character of the music.

Opening the concert was the overture from John Williams’ score to the 1972 film The Cowboys. Elias was on the podium and the orchestra was joined by about a dozen talented high school musicians. The expanded ensemble played the rousing music with crisply defined articulation and uninhibited exuberance.     

The Salt Lake Symphony’s next concerts take place December 5-7 in the Grand Theatre at Salt Lake Community College. On the program are Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors and Leavitt and Buck’s A Christmas Carol. saltlakesymphony.org

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