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When you think "Gustav Mahler," you don't usually think "small." (Amusing memes notwithstanding.) So it's surprising to learn that more than one composer has rearranged Mahler's Symphony No. 4 for chamber ensemble. The Intermezzo Chamber Music Series gave Erwin Stein's version its Utah premiere Monday night. The downsized version is no replacement for the original, but it's a fascinating exercise. Monday's performance invited listeners to open their ears to things that they might have taken for granted for years, if not decades.
Paring the strings down to five (one per voice) was the most noticeable change, shifting the balance dramatically to the woodwinds and creating a sonic window through which the other instruments appeared more clearly especially when the two reed players delivered certain passages with the bells of their instruments raised. Flutist Lisa Byrnes, oboist Lissa Stolz and clarinetist Erin Svoboda played stylishly while doubling on piccolo, English horn and bass clarinet, respectively. Violinists Alex Martin and Hugh Palmer, violist Scott Lewis, cellist Andrew Larson and bassist Jens TenBroek played the string parts incisively. Eric Hopkins ably covered the famous sleighbells and most of the other percussion; Frank Weinstock at the piano and Jed Moss on harmonium filled in for all the other instruments, including brass and harp. Conductor Rei Hotoda held it all together, allowing Mahler's phrases to breathe naturally.
The first two movements of Mahler's Fourth are colorful and lively, so the prominent winds gave a nice piquancy. The serene third movement, on the other hand, usually feels like a warm and reassuring embrace, so the thinness of the strings was a detriment. The finale, in which a soprano presents a child's imagined vision of heavenly life, was much more successful. Aubrey Adams-McMillan, a mezzo, brought extra warmth to the part.
Cellist Rainer Eudeikis was the star of the concert's first half, playing sonatas by Eugène Ysaÿe and Zóltan Kodály with apparently effortless virtuosity and a tone like fine dark chocolate. Eudeikis' performance was so expressive, it was like having a second singer on the program. Weinstock partnered him gracefully in the Kodály sonata. (Both musicians deserve extra points for keeping their cool while an audience member's watch alarm went off not once but three times.)
Intermezzo Chamber Music Series
Music of Eugène Ysaÿe, Zóltan Kodály and Gustav Mahler.
Featuring • Conductor Rei Hotoda, soprano Aubrey Adams-McMillan, cellist Rainer Eudeikis
When • Monday
Where • Vieve Gore Concert Hall at Westminster College, Salt Lake City
Up next • Monday, July 17, features string quartets by Maurice Ravel, Anton Webern and Karol Szymanowski; information at intermezzoconcerts.org