Gerhardt, Utah Symphony find a whole world of hues with Dutilleux

Sat Mar 30, 2019 at 10:46 am
By Edward Reichel

Alban Gerhardt performed Henri Dutilleux’s “Tout un monde lointain” with the Utah Symphony Friday night at Abravanel Hall. Photo: Kathleen Sykes

The focal point at this weekend’s Utah Symphony concerts in Abravanel Hall is Henri Dutilleux’s magnificent Tout un monde lointain for cello and orchestra. A concerto in all but name, the work was written for Mstislav Rostropovich between 1967-70, and the cello is in the solo spotlight nearly throughout. 

Inspired by poems from the 19th-century poet Charles Baudelaire’s collection Les fleurs du mal, Tout un monde lointain is set in five continuous movements. The work opens softly for the soloist and percussion, gradually evolving into more energetic passages by the soloist with brief orchestral bursts, that act as a commentary on the cello. And throughout the 30-minute piece, the music shifts between lyrical passages and dynamic orchestral statements before subsiding to a hushed quiet at the coda.

In Tout un monde lointain (A Whole Distant World), Dutilleux emphasizes orchestral colors as its principal component. The composer is a master at exploiting the timbral possibilities of a large ensemble with expanded percussion section, often scoring resourcefully for vivid instrumental combinations. And despite employing a large orchestra, the textures are transparent and kaleidoscopic throughout, with an effect frequently closer to chamber music.

Alban Gerhardt was the soloist in the Dutilleux work, making a return visit to Salt Lake City after a lengthy absence. The German cellist has a commanding stage presence and played his part with conviction and an array of expressive detail. He and music director Thierry Fischer made sympathetic partners, both capturing the intricate subtleties of the music. Fischer coaxed a finely balanced performance from his ensemble that mirrored Gerhardt’s intelligent reading.

Thierry Fischer conducted the Utah Symphony in music of Rossini, Dutilleux and Dvořák Friday night. Photo: Kathleen Sykes

Bookending the Dutilleux are two concert hall warhorses: the Overture to Rossini’s opera William Tell and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.” To Fischer’s credit, he brought a welcome freshness to each.

The overture displayed some fine solo passages by English horn player Lissa Stolz and particularly by principal cellist Rainer Eudeikis, who rendered the opening solo with fluid lyricism. Fischer elicited clean, crisp playing from his entire ensemble.

In the often-heard Dvořák symphony, Fischer directed a solid reading that underscored the shifts in dynamics and tempo. Fischer’s pacing in the first movement was spot-on and the orchestra delivered with polished, well-executed playing. The famous slow movement showcases the English horn player and Stolz once again brought finely crafted expressiveness, supported by the orchestra’s tender support.

In the third movement Fischer made sure there were seamless transitions between the sections. And the conductor captured the restless energy of the finale, getting ebullient and fully committed playing from the Utah musicians.

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

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