The soloists shine in Utah Symphony’s colorful Strauss showcase

Sun Apr 30, 2023 at 10:45 am
By Catherine Reese Newton
Kevin John Edusei led the Utah Symphony in a program of Strauss, Ravel and Rachmaninoff on Friday at Abravanel Hall. Photo: Marco Borggreve

It’s always a treat when the Utah Symphony features its own players as soloists. The doubly delightful pairing of principal clarinetist Tad Calcara and principal bassoonist Lori Wike this weekend was made all the more special on Friday night by the fact that their vehicle, Richard Strauss’s 1948 Duet-Concertino, had never been heard in Abravanel Hall before.

Wike and Calcara have been playing side by side since Wike joined the orchestra in 2005 (Calcara has been in his position since 1998), so the teaming is natural. Whether coincidentally or by design, they dressed in coordinating colors — he in a smart cobalt jacket, she in a sparkling indigo gown. (In a stroke of sartorial serendipity, the lining of conductor Kevin John Edusei’s stylish long coat was also blue.) And the musical dialogues and dances they produced were just as harmonious. Both soloists were in top form in this beauty-and-the-beast tale, with Calcara producing pure, songful lines as Wike guided the bassoon from its characteristic gruffness to a charming lyricism befitting a prince in disguise.

A reduced complement of strings and harp provided expert support. Again, a long history of week-in, week-out collaboration made for a friendly, well-balanced interaction. Edusei leaned into the chamber-music feel, conducting with a light touch. The German conductor has a visually appealing style, with clean, sweeping gestures in the right hand and graceful expression in the left.

The evening’s other major work was Strauss’s Suite from Der Rosenkavalier, in a bold, exuberant reading. The brash horn opening, the more refined “presentation of the rose,” the bluster of Baron Ochs and the touching farewell trio all came across with panache, and the concluding waltz made a beautiful bookend to an evening that had opened with Ravel’s La Valse. Concertmaster Madeline Adkins, trumpeter Travis Peterson, and oboist Zachary Hammond were among the many orchestra players with noteworthy solo moments.

This program examining “the transience of life,” as Edusei termed it, began with La Valse and Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Dead. Both were bursting with orchestral color, albeit on the dark side of the sonic palette. An ominous undercurrent prevailed throughout La Valse, with the doomed waltzers taking on an increasingly frantic aspect. The Isle of the Dead was uncannily picturesque in its depiction of beating waves and rowing oars that gave way to insistent repetitions of the Dies Irae theme.

Utah Symphony with music director Thierry Fischer conducting performs Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 20 and 21, at Abravanel Hall.

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