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Concert review

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Sat May 28, 2022 at 1:37 pm
Veronika Eberle performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Thierry Fischer and the Utah Symphony Friday night at Abravanel Hall. Photo: Doug Carter

The Utah Symphony’s season closed as it opened, with an iconic German violin concerto. Back in September, the first concert of the season featured Hilary Hahn playing the Brahms, and Friday night, the last concert of the season featured Veronika Eberle performing the Beethoven Violin Concerto. 

In addition to the structural and aspirational similarities between the two pieces, they also share a connection to Joseph Joachim, the virtuoso who made his concert debut playing the Beethoven and who also played the world premiere of the Brahms. At the time of their premieres, both pieces were considered so difficult, Joachim was one of only a handful of violinists who could play them.

The Beethoven began deliberately and somewhat ponderously, with music director Thierry Fischer playing close attention to the articulation and phrasing of not only the melody, but the busy contrapuntal line in the low strings. Wearing a stylish turquoise gown, Eberle closed her eyes during the extended orchestral opening and swayed with the music. She entered authoritatively, and her opening passage went with an emphatic yet refined quality.

This quality permeated the first movement, with the German violinist’s expressive phrasing, varied articulation, and generous tone giving the virtuosic passages a clear melodic structure. She kept the melody manifest during the fiendishly difficult first movement cadenza, which features triple stops and at times requires the violin to play both a melody and contrapuntal line.

In the second movement, Fischer gave the orchestral passages a subdued, anticipatory energy which built slowly to moments of exquisite sweetness. Eberle’s soulful musicality came through in the movement’s exposed, sparsely accompanied passages, and her phrasing was rich and nuanced. 

Eberle and the orchestra played the dancing third movement with a graceful relish. Her technique dazzled while her expressive articulation and varied tone kept the furiously fast passages compelling with each iteration.

As with last week, Friday’s concert also included two movements from Messiaen’s magnum opus Des Canyons aux Etoiles…(“From the Canyons to the Stars…”), which the orchestra will play in its 12-movement entirety at Zion National Park on June 2. 

While they had roughly the same ensemble—a percussion-heavy chamber orchestra with piano—this week’s selections had a more ethereal, contemplative quality compared to the birdsong-inspired excerpts last week.

“Les Ressucites et de l’etoile Aldebaran” (The Resurrected and the Song of the Star Aldebran) is a call and response between gorgeous, atmospheric sonorities in the strings and winds, and furious chromatic patterns in the piano, glockenspiel, and piccolo. “Zion Park et la Cite Celeste” (Zion Park and the celestial city)  expands the call and response pattern into a repeating sequence of different combinations and moods; the piano plays atmospheric chords and chromatic runs in different sections and the orchestra alternates stately chords with soft, ethereal, string passages. The sequence also included frenetic bursts of percussion in wood blocks, chimes, cymbals and gongs.

Fischer and the orchestra gave the Messiaen a conscientious, often inspired performance. Playing without a score, principal keyboardist Jason Hardink displayed fierce technique as well as  stunning musicality, delivering both percussive power and orchestral color. Fischer paid close attention to the timbral hues, taking his time with the stately chords, and adding vibrato and dynamic flourishes to the celestial string passages.

 The evening closed with a delightful rendition of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2. This Ravel favorite played to Fischer’s strengths, and his interpretation was intoxicating. The atmospheric beginning grew slowly to a shimmering melody in the strings and a soaring climax in the full orchestra. Principal flutist Mercedes Smith played her solo passages with nimble technique and free phrasing, and concertmaster Madeline Adkins showed her skillful musicality in her spotlit violin passages as well. The piece’s resplendent finish brought the audience to its feet for a thunderous ovation for both the concert and this successful comeback season.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Abravanel Hall. utahsymphony.org

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