On a bone-chilling day like Friday, what sane person would want to go near the water? Yet that's what the Utah Symphony invited listeners to do, on a cleverly programmed concert that started 2013 on a thrilling note.
The second and third suites from Handel's "Water Music," the best-known selections on the program, got top billing. British conductor Nicholas McGegan, known for his mastery of early music, led the chamber-size Utah Symphony in a brisk, jovial performance. Particularly during the trumpet-heavy Suite No. 2, it was easy to imagine oneself lounging on the banks of the Thames, nibbling on cucumber sandwiches, as the barge bearing the royal musicians floated by. Charming strings predominated in the merry Suite No. 3, with Caitlin Valovick-Moore contributing a delightfully jaunty air with her flute and piccolo playing.
McGegan paired the Handel on the second half of the program with water music of a decidedly different character, the Four Sea Interludes from Benjamin Britten's opera "Peter Grimes." From the opening bars, Louise Vickerman's distinctive harp playing made it clear that the North Sea beaches Britten's characters inhabited are nothing like the banks of the Thames. The full-size Utah Symphony brought all its force to bear in the most dynamic and involving performance of the Sea Interludes in recent memory.