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There are two ways of looking at the most popular works in the symphonic repertoire: "That again?" and "There's a reason this is popular." The Utah Symphony and music director Thierry Fischer made a resounding case for two of these tried-and-true works Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 ("Emperor") and Brahms' Symphony No. 1 on Friday.
Soloist Emanuel Ax got a hearty round of foot stamps and bow taps from the orchestra before he even played a note. He lived up to the warm welcome with a masterful performance of the "Emperor," balancing muscle and delicacy as his fingers floated over the keys with uncanny grace. Ax enjoyed an appealing rapport with the orchestra. From the violists, who seized their moment of glory in the first movement, to timpanist Eric Hopkins, who helped usher the piece to a smooth landing, the players rose to the occasion. Fischer likes his Beethoven peppy, and his crisp tempos propelled the piece along. Ax favored the cheering Abravanel Hall crowd with a lovely slice of Schumann as an encore.
The orchestra returned from intermission with an exhilarating performance of the Brahms symphony. Here's the thing about Brahms' symphonies: He tricks you into thinking he's wrapping things up a half-dozen times before the end finally arrives. This can present pitfalls for the unwary conductor. Not so with Fischer, who paced this performance beautifully. The Utah Symphony strings, in particular, maintained their laser focus from beginning to end. Expressive woodwinds and majestic brass completed the picture.
The concert opened with a rousing performance of Beethoven's "Fidelio" Overture.
Music of Beethoven and Brahms.
With • Conductor Thierry Fischer and pianist Emanuel Ax
When • Reviewed Friday, Sept. 16; repeats Saturday, Sept. 17, at 7:30 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Running time • 2 hours, including intermission
Tickets • $26-$84; discounts for students and groups; utahsymphony.org