The Utah Symphony is offering three soloists for the price of one this weekend as it opens the 2013-14 season. Violinist Philip Setzer, cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han join the orchestra and music director Thierry Fischer in Beethoven's Triple Concerto.
Among the soloists, Finckel was the glue in Friday night's performance which is logical, because he has been married to Wu Han for almost 30 years and played in the Emerson String Quartet with Setzer for even longer than that.
The musicians took a little while to settle in, but once they found their groove, they stayed there. The second movement of the concerto flowed with a lyricism that suited the trio especially well; there were also some delightfully engaging moments in the finale in which Beethoven had the three soloists trade riffs much like jazz musicians.
The whole piece had the intimate, collaborative quality that's characteristic of chamber music. At times, the slightly downsized Utah Symphony seemed to function like a single instrument. The soloists maintained close eye contact with each other and, often, with their orchestral counterparts.
The first half of the program featured the opening installment of Fischer's seasonlong project in which he'll conduct the six symphonies of Danish composer Carl Nielsen. In previous seasons, Fischer has focused on two better-known composers Ludwig van Beethoven and Felix Mendelssohn but based on this opening concert, the Nielsen cycle could be the most rewarding one yet. Nielsen is hardly a household name, but he deserves to be. His fresh, invigorating Symphony No. 1 grabbed listeners' attention from the opening bars in Friday's performance. The symphony's first movement bears the unusual marking of "orgoglioso," Italian for "proud," and the description was apt. Fischer has the Utah Symphony's string section sounding fuller and more majestic than it has in years. A burst of energy from the trumpets at the end of the movement inspired a smattering of applause.
The program opened with a poignant tribute to longtime principal cellist Ryan Selberg, who died this summer. The orchestra played "The Swan," a beloved movement from Saint-Saëns' "The Carnival of the Animals," with the entire cello section playing the solo part. The magical efffect was magnified in eloquent silence that followed before Fischer and the orchestra launched directly into an evocative performance of the "Forest Murmurs" from Wagner's opera "Siegfried."
The orchestra's opening weekend, featuring music of Saint-Saëns, Wagner, Nielsen and Beethoven.
With • Conductor Thierry Fischer, violinist Philip Setzer, cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City.
When • Reviewed Friday, Sept. 13; repeats Saturday, Sept. 14, at 8 p.m.
Tickets • $23-$74 at www.arttix.org.
Running time • Two hours, including intermission.
Learn more • Fischer chats about the music with Utah Symphony VP Toby Tolokan onstage an hour before downbeat.