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This weekend's Utah Symphony performances are two concerts in one.
The first half of Friday's program Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and Stravinsky's Bach-inspired "Dumbarton Oaks" was a treat for those who still hold out hope that the orchestra will resurrect its chamber-orchestra series. The second half kicked off music director Thierry Fischer's seasonlong journey through the Mendelssohn symphonies with the composer's longest symphony, the Second (subtitled "Lobgesang," or "Song of Praise").
Fischer cleverly set up the Abravanel Hall stage as two smaller performance spaces for the concert's first half. Ten string players, with Jason Hardink at the harpsichord, were stationed on the west side of the stage for the Bach. Fischer conducted the piece in cut time, which may have startled some concertgoers' ears at first but quickly resulted in a contagious buoyancy. The musicians, most of whom played standing, all sounded as if they were having a grand time, and at times listeners may have been tempted to get up and dance (albeit in a courtly manner).
Seven of the players then walked to the east side of the stage, where a handful of colleagues awaited them, to play "Dumbarton Oaks." The concerto bears the unmistakable influence of Bach, but the coloration especially in the woodwinds could have come from no one but Stravinsky. Flutist Mercedes Smith, clarinetist Tad Calcara and bassoonist Lori Wike played with delightful piquancy. Every bar was utterly involving.
At 70 minutes, more than half of which is sung by a chorus, Mendelssohn's "Lobgesang" is a bit of an endurance test. But the Utah Symphony Chorus, well-prepared under the baton of chorus master Susanne Sheston, sang the biblical text with unflagging energy, as did the three young, expressive soloists. The Utah Symphony brass and wind sections had an especially fine outing.
Music of Bach, Stravinsky and Mendelssohn.
With • Conductor Thierry Fischer, sopranos Twyla Robinson and Priti Gandhi, tenor Colin Balzer and the Utah Symphony Chorus.
When • Reviewed Friday, Sept. 28; repeats Saturday, Sept. 29, at 8 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City.
Running time • Two hours, including intermission.
Tickets • $23-$58 (student discounts available); 801-355-2787 or http://www.utahsymphony.org.
Learn more • Fischer and Toby Tolokan, Utah Symphony vice president of artistic planning, present a preconcert chat onstage at 7 p.m.