Concert review: Jean-Philippe Collard and Gilbert Varga bring bright, vibrant Mozart

Published: Saturday, Feb. 13 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

UTAH SYMPHONY, CONDUCTOR GILBERT VARGA, PIANIST JEAN-PHILIPPE COLLARD, Abravanel Hall, Feb. 12, additional performance Feb. 13 (801-355-2787).

Mozart and Jean-Philippe Collard are a union made in heaven. Few pianists today play Mozart with as much expression and emotion as Collard does. And even though he is noted for his interpretations of the music of his French countrymen, he is nevertheless a wonderful exponent of Mozart's music.

Collard is the Utah Symphony's soloist this weekend under guest conductor Gilbert Varga. Playing Mozart's charming A major concerto, K. 488, Collard showed what obviously is his natural affinity for this music, as well as his amazing pianism and artistry.

While at times he seemed a little heavy on the pedal, especially in the opening movement, his playing was still characterized by precision and clean phrasings. It isn't easy to do Mozart justice, but Collard certainly did pull it off. His playing was technically secure and musically remarkable.

Varga approached the music in similar fashion. He elicited clean playing and wonderfully articulated phrases from the orchestra.

This is one of Mozart's brightest and cheeriest works, and both Collard and Varga captured its character wonderfully. The opening movement flowed with a naturalness that underscored its lyricism, while in the slow movement, the bittersweet tone was emphasized in Collard's playing, which was gorgeously expressive. And the finale burst forth with an exuberance that brought a ray of sunshine after the dark-tinged adagio.

The concert opened with two works by Ruth Crawford Seeger, a composer not on the Utah Symphony's normal repertoire list. She is a fine composer, whose music deserves to be played here.

The two pieces of hers that were played are very different in character. "Rissolty Rossolty: An American Fantasy," based on three American folk songs, is tonal, unassuming and captivating, while the Andante for Strings (originally the slow movement of her string quartet from 1931) is intense, with long-sustained notes that gradually build into a massive climax before quickly dissipating. Varga and the orchestra played these wonderfully. The overture was vibrant and dramatic, while the andante contained some of the finest string playing heard here in quite some time.

Closing the concert was Dvorak's Symphony No. 9. Conducting without a score, Varga captured the boldness of the work forcefully while never compromising on the lyricism inherent in the work. The orchestra did a magnificent job with it, bringing feeling and expressiveness to its playing. And Holly Gornik's English horn solo in the largo was exquisitely crafted and played.

e-mail: ereichel@desnews.com

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