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The Utah Symphony played an evening of chamber music Friday night … in a manner of speaking.
Two of the three pieces on the program began life as chamber music: Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, which originated as the slow movement of a string quartet; and Johannes Brahms' Piano Quartet No. 1, fantastically amplified by Arnold Schoenberg's orchestration.
In between, Karen Gomyo gave a knockout performance of the Barber Violin Concerto. Her tone was songful and strong, with just the right note of tartness not just in the lyrical first and second movements, but in the sizzling finale as well. Guest conductor Jun Märkl, a Utah Symphony favorite making his sixth appearance with the orchestra since 2012, presided over an elegant supporting performance, highlighted by James Hall's melancholy oboe solo in the slow movement.
Even more elegant was the orchestra's performance of the Barber Adagio under Märkl's direction. It's one of the best-known pieces of music in the world, but this was the kind of performance that made you envy those hearing it for the first time.
If you're among those who find Brahms' symphonic works long-winded, Schoenberg's orchestration of his first piano quartet is the piece for you. It takes a special kind of musical genius to say, "What this piano quartet needs is a glockenspiel, and maybe some muted brass," and Schoenberg executed the idea so well that the result is sometimes nicknamed Brahms' Fifth Symphony. Märkl conducted it from memory. The highlight of this exuberant performance was the glorious madness of the finale, a Gypsy-inspired dance that brought the Abravanel Hall crowd to its feet and brought equally enthusiastic applause from the players for the maestro.
The program repeats Saturday.
Music of Samuel Barber and Johannes Brahms (by way of Arnold Schoenberg).
With • Conductor Jun Märkl and violinist Karen Gomyo
When • Reviewed Friday, April 28; repeats Saturday, April 29, at 7:30 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Running time • About 2 hours, including intermission
Tickets • $20-$86; utahsymphony.org