UTAH SYMPHONY, Joseph Silverstein conducting, with soprano JoAnn Ottley, flutist Erich Graf, Symphony Hall, April 19-20, 8 p.m.
Last September Utah Symphony principal flutist Erich Graf had the honor of sharing the stage with Jean-Pierre Rampal on the orchestra's opening concert of the season. Friday he had the spotlight to himself for a performance of the "Concierto pastorale" of the blind Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo that demonstrated once again that that honor was not misplaced.Indeed he displayed a soloistic presence not far behind that of the concerto's dedicatee, James Galway, along with an interpretive profile of his own.
For the most part that profile was sharply drawn, from the flashing octaves of the opening movement, here breathtakingly agile, to his vivid pointing of the finale (where, in fact, the score calls for some slurring). But in between came a shapely dialog with the oboe (characterfully intoned by Robert Stephenson) and the stately arabesques of the middle movement, here poised and fluid yet again strongly animated in the
dancelike central section.
The finale, by contrast, might have been a bit more animated. But at least that was of a piece with music director Joseph Silverstein's unhurried view of the work as a whole - essentially a chamber score - which had the advantage of preserving the pastoral air of the slow movement without sacrificing its distinctly Spanish edge, and opening up the first movement more than is sometimes the case.
The word "unhurried" also describes Silverstein's view of the major work on this Symphony Hall program, the Mahler Fourth Symphony. The result here, however, was generally heavy without being particularly expansive, especially in the first two movements.
Which meant for once the bass drum out-pointed the triangle in the opening movement - here not so fanciful, or so crisp-sounding, despite its otherworldly complement of flutes and sleighbells. Nor were textures particularly light in the demonic scherzo, in which concertmaster Ralph Matson's solos nonetheless cut like acid, as they are supposed to.
Where this worked best was in the lengthy third movement, with its hushed low-string opening and carefully built climaxes. Indeed even the major lyrical episodes were deliberately subdued, as though the final vision of heaven needed to be penetrated through a veil.
But when that happened, as in the finale, with its inspired setting of the "Knaben Wunderhorn" song "Das himmlische Leben," the effect was properly magical. Here, however, much of the credit goes to soprano JoAnn Ottley, whose singing, although not textually perfect, proved remarkably fresh and childlike, and extraordinarily moving.
Especially in the final stanzas, with their beautifully floated evocation of St. Peter and St. Martha and affecting underlining of the German. If Mahler didn't weep over this song when he composed it (as Tovey once suggested), I know at least one member of the audience who made up for it Friday. And although that's not unusual, it is when the rest of the performance hasn't called forth a similar flood.
- REPEAT PERFORMANCE: Among many fine recordings of the Mahler Fourth Symphony, my own favorites are those of Levine (RCA), Szell (CBS), Horenstein (EMI) and, if you can find them, Klemperer (EMI), Tennstedt (EMI) and just about any of Bruno Walter's.