The Salt Lake Symphony presented an exciting concert Friday evening with a program featuring Wagner, Mozart and Chopin. The orchestra consists of some first-rate musicians, and they all played with conviction.
Caswell is an able conductor. He is stable, reliable and a bit dull to watch. He is limited as to his gestures. He basically conducts the beat, which is fine and commendable, but his style lacks the emotional involvement needed to make him appear as though he really enjoys himself on stage, instead of coming across, as he does, as just having to get through another gig (ho-hum).The concert opened with Wagner's overture to "Die Meistersinger." This is a stately, majestic work with some comic interludes for primarily the woodwinds. Caswell's tempos were good, though a little on the slow side, but they never dragged, even though they came dangerously close a couple of times.
Wagner relies heavily on the brass, especially the lower brass, to present much of the musical material. They unfortunately overpowered the rest of the orchestra. (The acoustics at All Saints are not the best for a concert.) As it was, the work came across sounding like a piece for brass band.
Caswell could have toned down the brass a notch or two during rehearsal.
The other work before intermission was Mozart's symphonic masterpiece, the Symphony No. 41 in C major ("Jupiter"). This is the supreme example of Classical-era symphonies. It's a finely crafted work, charged with emotions and power.
This work was a lot easier to listen to and hear than Wagner's, since the only brass Mozart writes for here are trumpets and horns. And these are used sparingly, to emphasize certain points and to help delineate the ca-dences.
The highpoint of the "Jupiter" Symphony is its last movement. This is undoubtedly one of the greatest sym-phonic movements ever written. There are five separate themes in this movement, which are stated in succession at the beginning. These are then developed, changed and modified through a series of different harmonizations. These themes then return in the closing section of the movement in a glorious outburst of contrapuntal brilliance.
The sheer melodicism and the dramatic power of this movement is enough to elevate the listener to another, higher, plane of consciousness.
The final work on the program was Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, with Lenora Ford Brown as soloist. This wonderfully melodic work is well-known to all aficionados of piano music, and Brown did an outstanding job bringing out both the lyrical beauty of the music and also its dramatic force.
Caswell and the orchestra did a good job accompanying Brown. They never overpowered her. But this was mainly due to Chopin's orchestrations (a reduced orchestra when the soloist is playing).
The loveliest movement of this concerto is the slow second movement, which basically is a nocturne for piano. The orchestral accompaniment here is almost superfluous. The piano carries all the musical weight in this movement, and Brown played this music with graceful lyricism.
Brown shone brilliantly at this concert. Her artistry definitely made her the highlight of the evening.