Fischer, Utah Symphony jazz it up with Gershwin, Ravel and Schubert

Sat Sep 29, 2018 at 12:36 pm
By Edward Reichel

Thierry Fischer conducted the Utah Symphony Friday night at Abravanel Hall. Photo: Kathleen Sykes

If there truly is a popular classical music program, that doesn’t manage to beat old warhorses to death, then this weekend’s Utah Symphony offering surely is it.

It’s certainly difficult not to like a concert featuring works by George Gershwin, Maurice Ravel and Franz Schubert, especially when played as magnificently as they were by the orchestra under Thierry Fischer Friday night at Abravanel Hall. For all their familiarity, none of the three works this weekend have been programmed that frequently, so it was a special treat to have them on the same bill.

The evening opened with An American in Paris, and Fischer’s finely crafted interpretation brought Gershwin’s delightful tone poem vividly to life. One could almost see the unnamed American of the title overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of Paris, eventually being captivated by some silky smooth jazz emanating from a cafe, before venturing out into the city once again.

Fischer coaxed a vibrant performance from his ensemble that at times verged on the raucous. However, it was never overdone and the exuberance was tastefully delivered, with a supple, almost romantic longing in its slow bluesy sections.

Rounding out the first half was Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major, with the young Frenchman Alexandre Tharaud as soloist.

Photo: Kathleen Sykes

Tharaud consistently underscored the wit and spirit of the outer two movements, with his crisply articulated playing mirrored by the orchestra. The high point of the performance was the gorgeous slow movement. The music lyrical and almost Mozartean in its delicacy (as only Ravel could envision Mozart). Tharaud’s playing of the opening solo was expressive and sensitively executed. The strings played with feeling and the numerous solo passages dotting this movement underscored the tender melodicism of the piano part. Particularly noteworthy for their contributions were associate principal flute Lisa Byrnes and principal oboe James Hall.

The concert ended with an exceptional account of Schubert’s nearly hour-long Ninth Symphony, aptly nicknamed “The Great.” And right from acting principal horn Edmund Rollett’s opening fanfare one was certain this would be a memorable performance. 

Fischer’s well-chosen tempi in the opening movement emphasized the majestic character of the work as well as an underlying seriousness that frequently gets overlooked. In fact, there was an earnestness in Fischer’s reading that allowed the listener to glimpse the influence of Beethoven in the music, albeit in Schubert’s terms. Though a somber account, Fischer’s nuanced interpretation was well thought out and executed. 

While the lyrical pages were warm and inviting, the playing  was also dynamic and forceful where needed.  The brass section showed their mettle in this work, with  Rollett and principal trumpet Travis Peterson in fine form throughout.

The program will be repeated 5:30 p.m. Saturday in Abravanel Hall.

3 Responses to “Fischer, Utah Symphony jazz it up with Gershwin, Ravel and Schubert”

  1. Posted Sep 29, 2018 at 11:32 pm by Carol Anderson

    And don’t forget Lissa Stolz’s gorgeous and extended solo in that second mvt of Ravel! Wow!

  2. Posted Oct 01, 2018 at 3:14 pm by Carol

    Very esoteric review. I can’t believe there was no mention of the two encores played by Mr. Tharaud. Although I can appreciate the nuances of the great works of Gershwin, Ravel and Schubert, the encores provided a great “cherry on top “.

  3. Posted Oct 15, 2018 at 2:47 pm by Edward Reichel

    Carol: Tharaud didn’t play any encores at the Friday performance I reviewed.

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