Utah Symphony members downsize gracefully for chamber program

Fri Feb 12, 2021 at 11:38 am
By Ed Reichel
Music of Mozart and Mendelssohn was performed by Utah Symphony members in a streaming chamber program.

With all Salt Lake County-operated venues shuttered through March 24, the Utah Symphony has begun recording live performances for its new On Demand series, which can be streamed through the orchestra’s website. 

The most recent stream was a chamber music program offering selections from quartets by Mozart and Mendelssohn. Performed by violinists Yuki MacQueen and Alex Martin (alternating in the first-violin position), violist Joel Gibbs and cellist John Eckstein, the concert gave these musicians the opportunity of showcasing their talents outside of their normal symphonic environment. All players were masked and socially distanced from each other on the Abravanel Hall stage.

The musicians delivered finely shaded and wonderfully nuanced accounts of music from Mozart’s Quartet No. 15 in D minor, K. 421, and Mendelssohn’s Quartet in D major, Op. 44, no. 1. For whatever reason, only two movements from each quartet were performed. With the exceptional playing displayed by the foursome, it would have been nice to hear both works in their entirety, but even in this shortened presentation, the 30-minute concert proved enjoyable.

The program opens with the first movement of the Mozart. The four (with MacQueen occupying the first violin chair) gave a precise and cleanly executed account that has a touch of sadness to it. They deftly captured the darkly tinged colors of this movement without turning overtly gloomy. With a nicely paced tempo, the players drew a great deal of feeling from the movement and underscored the expressiveness and lyricism of the music. This quartet is one of six that Mozart dedicated to Haydn and the older composer’s influence is distinctly heard in the fourth movement. The musicians brought lightness and rhythmic drive to their interpretation which emphasized its witty Haydnesque spirit.

With Martin as first violinist, the group turned to the second movement of the Mendelssohn quartet. A leisurely, stylized minuet, the music lacks the incisive rhythms of the dance but makes up for that with lyrical melodic beauty—a quality well brought out in a performance that underlined the melodic richness of the music.

The Utah Symphony members captured the finale’s animated youthfulness and lively rhythms of the finale in an understated manner that nevertheless encapsulated the vitality and verve of the music. 

The program will be streamed through March 3 at usuo.org.  

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