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Utah's flagship musical organizations the Utah Symphony and Mormon Tabernacle Choir join forces in the Salt Lake Tabernacle every four years to perform a choral masterpiece. (These "serious" concerts alternate with lighter fare on the biannual Tanner Gift of Music series.) This weekend brings the rare opportunity to experience Gustav Mahler's magnificent Symphony No. 8, nicknamed the "Symphony of a Thousand." Friday's performing forces, under the baton of Utah Symphony music director Thierry Fischer, numbered closer to 500, but the impact was nearly overwhelming all the same.
The choir was beautifully prepared by its music director, Mack Wilberg. Whether singing in Latin (in the hymn that constitutes the symphony's first movement) or German (in the scene from Goethe's "Faust" that concludes the work), the 360 singers' diction was crisp and forceful. Choristers from Salt Lake City's Madeleine Choir School, prepared by Melanie Malinka, sang with impeccable professionalism.
Eight well-matched vocal soloists played various roles in the "Faust" scene. Amy Owens made maximum impact in her short appearance as the Mater Gloriosa. Celena Shafer (as Gretchen), Orla Boylan, Charlotte Hellekant, Tamara Mumford, Barry Banks, Markus Werba and Jordan Bisch also impressed.
Anchoring the performance, the Utah Symphony played with equal parts force and finesse. That opening hymn, "Veni Creator Spiritus," practically blew the doors off the Tabernacle, but after a short pause, the orchestra magically transported Friday's exceptionally well-behaved crowd to the mysterious stillness of a forest. The work concluded with another tidal wave of sound, amplified by a perfectly timed contingent of brass players at the back of the Tabernacle.
A gift of Mahler
The Utah Symphony and Mormon Tabernacle Choir continue their biannual Tanner Gift of Music concert series with Mahler's magnificent Symphony No. 8.
With • Conductor Thierry Fischer, choristers of the Madeleine Choir School and eight soloists
Where • Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square
When • Reviewed Friday, Feb. 19; repeats Saturday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m.
Running time • About 90 minutes; no intermission
Tickets • Free, but sold out; there will be a standby line at the Temple Square flagpole