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No soloists in Abravanel Hall this weekend the Utah Symphony itself is the star in symphonies by a trio of composers who, at least on the surface, couldn't be more disparate.
Antonín Dvorák's Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World") gets top billing, of course, as it's one of the best-known works in the genre. Utah Symphony music director Thierry Fischer, conducting from memory, led the orchestra in a performance of fierce urgency that highlighted the piece's questing spirit. The first movement led listeners rushing through a musical forest. Moments of rubato gave the sense that something unexpected might happen at any moment, belying the music's extreme familiarity. The brass chorale that ushered in the slow movement could have been a bit more solemn, but the woodwind playing that followed was everything one could hope for, bringing a sense of wonderment to the hall.
Lissa Stolz's English horn solos boasting the most beloved melody in a symphony that is chock-full of memorable melodies were worth savoring every time they recurred. The string players also conjured some magic that brought the crowd to rapt silence. A brash sense of adventure returned in the last two movements, earning an immediate standing ovation and shouts of approval for each section of the orchestra in turn.
The iconoclastic American composer Charles Ives' Symphony No. 1 served to illuminate the Dvorák symphony in interesting ways, not least because it obviously draws on the earlier symphony for inspiration. This isn't the Ives of the crisscrossing marching bands, but it still offers plenty of surprises. Fischer and the Utah Symphony gave an expansive performance, highlighted by some truly rousing brass and percussion at the end.
Haydn's Symphony No. 7 opened the concert in a light and transparent performance that seemed more like chamber music, especially in contrast to the weighty works that followed. An extended interaction between concertmaster Madeline Adkins and principal cellist Rainer Eudeikis was particularly engaging.
Thierry Fischer leads the orchestra in music of Haydn, Ives and Dvorák.
When • Reviewed Friday, Nov. 4; repeats Saturday, Nov. 5, at 7:30 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Running time • 2 hours, including intermission
Tickets • $26-$74; utahsymphony.org