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Conrad Tao is for real.
The 17-year-old American pianist, whose star has only grown brighter in the 15 months since he bowled over the Abravanel Hall crowd as a last-minute substitute for Horacio Gutiérrez in Rachmaninoff's Paganini Rhapsody, showed that his return invitation was well-earned. His bravura performance of another crowd-pleasing warhorse, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, elicited a rowdy ovation from the near-sellout house on Friday.
Not only did Tao demonstrate prodigious technique and a decisive attack in the "go big or go home" outer movements of the concerto, he showed reflective musicianship in the slow movement. The crowd wasn't about to let him go without an encore, and the personable teen obliged with a dazzling performance of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6.
Equally impressive was the orchestra's accompaniment under the elegant direction of guest conductor Andrey Boreyko. The St. Petersburg-born conductor achieved a surprising transparency that allowed a wealth of musical detail to shine through.
Uncompromising intensity, coupled with eloquent left-hand conducting technique, resulted in a gripping performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5. There has been controversy over the years regarding Shostakovich's intention with this symphony did he set out to appease Josef Stalin, or just the opposite? Boreyko's reading seemed to suggest the latter, especially in the grim, desolate beauty of the slow movement. Harpist Louise Vickerman, flutist Lisa Byrnes, oboist Robert Stephenson, contrabassoonist Leon Chodos and trumpeter Jeff Luke were just a few of the many orchestra members making outstanding contributions.
The concert opened with another Russian gem, Anatoli Liadov's "The Enchanted Lake."
Music of Liadov, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich.
With • Conductor Andrey Boreyko and pianist Conrad Tao.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City.
When • Reviewed Friday, Jan. 6; repeats Saturday, Jan. 7, at 8 p.m.
Tickets • $22 to $56.
Running time • 2 hours, 15 minutes, including intermission.