Thierry Fischer's Mendelssohn cycle is winding down. This weekend, the Utah Symphony presents the composer's charming Symphony No. 4 (nicknamed "Italian" because Mendelssohn was inspired by his vacations there); the double bill of symphonies 1 and 5 will complete the cycle two weeks from now.
Fischer and the orchestra played the Mendelssohn symphony at a peppy tempo on Friday; the players rose to the challenge with some crisp and clean playing, punctuated by George Brown's deft handling of the "Beethoven" timpani that the orchestra purchased especially for music of that period. The musicians stepped lightly and gracefully throughout the four-movement work, but the first movement in particular barely seemed to touch the ground. Lively playing by the woodwind section in the finale brought a sense of spontaneity to this familiar work.
Fischer paired the "Italian" Symphony with another piece inspired by Italian vacations, Edward Elgar's tone poem "In the South (Alassio)." This picturesque piece recalls Richard Strauss in its color and scope. The low brass had a fine outing, but it was principal violist Brant Bayless who stole the show with an extended solo that was utterly enchanting.
Latvian violinist Baiba Skride, a frequent collaborator of Fischer's, was the evening's soloist, performing the too-seldom-heard Stravinsky Violin Concerto. (The piece hadn't been heard in Abravanel Hall since Cho-Liang Lin played it in 2002.) It's from Stravinsky's neoclassical period, and the opening movement is more than a little reminiscent of "Pulcinella." Skride's fluid fingering brought the fast movements of the concerto to life as her bow danced across the strings, while her thoughtful collaboration with the orchestra in the two movements labeled "Aria" brought a sense of intimacy. Principal bassoonist Lori Wike's virtuosic execution of some tricky passages and some delightful interplay between the soloist and the orchestra's flutists highlighted the playful inventiveness of this concerto.
Music of Edward Elgar, Igor Stravinsky and Felix Mendelssohn.
With • Conductor Thierry Fischer and violinist Baiba Skride.
When • Reviewed Friday, Feb. 8; repeats Saturday, Feb. 9, at 8 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City.
Running time • Two hours, including intermission.
Tickets • $32-$72; visit bit.ly/11fPrXn.
Learn more • Thierry Fischer, Baiba Skride and Utah Symphony VP Toby Tolokan will chat about the music onstage at 7 p.m.; free to ticket-holders.
Vivace • Skride, Fischer and orchestra musicians will mingle with guests at a postconcert party in the hall's First Tier Room, presented by the Utah Symphony's "funkified" social-networking group. There will be cupcakes, appetizers and wine. Tickets for the concert and party are $38; use keyword Vivace when ordering tickets. Facebook event: http://on.fb.me/XpU3JZ