Utah Symphony trades rock for Rachmaninoff
Review • After spending its opening weekend saluting Billy Joel, the orchestra gets down to classical business with the crowd-pleasing sounds of Rachmaninoff.
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The Utah Symphony's first concerts of the 2012-13 season may have taken place last weekend, with the classic rock sounds of the Billy Joel songbook. But for all intents and purposes, the real season opener is happening this weekend, with classic Rach — Rachmaninoff, that is.

The orchestra traditionally includes some Beethoven on opening night, but after last season's Beethoven symphony extravaganza, that venerable composer was nowhere to be heard in Abravanel Hall on Friday night. Instead, music director Thierry Fischer and the orchestra served up a piano concerto and a symphony by Rachmaninoff. With that combination, you'd expect a standing-room crowd, but Friday's house, while respectably large and undeniably appreciative, was not sold out.

The 30-something, Russian-born pianist Yevgeny Sudbin was the soloist in Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 1. Sudbin's playing has an appealing lyric quality, and his light, clean touch made the concerto seem to breeze by. The orchestra's accompaniment, likewise, was lighter than one usually hears in Rachmaninoff — almost sparkling, in fact. Sentiment was in surprisingly short supply. (Sudbin's encore selection, which he didn't announce but which sounded suspiciously like Scarlatti, was also more about technique than emotion.)

But Fischer and the orchestra delivered passion in abundance in the evening's major work, Rachmaninoff's nearly hourlong Symphony No. 2. The conductor allowed the audience to luxuriate in the composer's big bubble bath of sound, particularly in the slow third movement.

New oboist/English horn player Lissa Stolz, one of several new players in key roles with the Utah Symphony this season, had an especially prominent part in the Rachmaninoff symphony, and she made a fine first impression. Principal clarinetist Tad Calcara also had a lovely solo turn.

The evening's curtain-raiser was Stravinsky's brief but invigorating "Greeting Prelude" — an unmistakably Stravinskian take on "Happy Birthday," with Sudbin taking the piquant piano part.

There's more Russian music in store next weekend, as Fischer will lead programs of Prokofiev and Mussorgsky.

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Utah Symphony

Music of Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff.

With • Conductor Thierry Fischer and pianist Yevgeny Sudbin.

Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City.

When • Reviewed Friday, Sept. 14; repeats Saturday, Sept. 15, at 8 p.m.

Running time • Two hours, including intermission.

Tickets • $23 to $72 at www.utahsymphony.org, 801-355-ARTS or the box office.

Learn more • A free preconcert lecture begins onstage at 7 p.m.