The Utah Symphony was once again in top form Friday evening. Under the experienced baton of music director Joseph Silverstein, the orchestra offered its audience a performance of the highest caliber.
This was already evident in the evening's first work, the overture to Verdi's opera, "La forza del destino." This was a powerful performance of one of Verdi's most dramatic works. The orchestra played crisply and precisely, with careful attention given to dynamics and details. This was a spirited opening to a great concert.The highlight of the evening was the performance of Leonard Bernstein's "Serenade," for solo violin, string orchestra, harp and percussion, with Ani Kavafian as soloist.
This work, from 1954, is one of Bernstein's better orchestral works, and it should be performed more often than it is. It's very inventive in its melodic make-up, it's well-written and it's exciting music. The orchestration is effective, with the percussion adding just the right amount of spice to the music, although in a few places it's a little superfluous, as if Bernstein felt he needed to add percussive effects just for the heck of it.
The work is in five movements that have very different types of music in them. Bernstein doesn't stick to just one musical style in his "Serenade," which makes it fun to listen to.
The first movement opens with a long section for solo violin within the framework of a lengthy slow introduction to the fast main body of the movement. This fast section gradually becomes a grotesque waltz, a caricature of Richard Strauss' music from "Der Rosenkavalier."
The second movement acts as an interlude-like section to the third movement, which is a furious scherzo. This is a brief, fleeting movement, over before one realizes it. The music plays on dynamics, moving back and forth quickly from loud to soft, muted to unmuted strings. It's a very effective piece.
The last movement opens with a slow introduction and has a lovely duet between soloist and principal cellist. The fast section is a take-off on jazz, with the music based on a rhythmic tune. It's almost as if Bernstein was parodying his own theatrical works ("On the Town" and "Wonderful Town" preceded the "Serenade"). It's a great movement, ending with a reminiscence of the opening movement's waltz theme.
Kavafian did a fantastic job with this work. She's a brilliant violinist and a very intense, energetic performer. She throws her entire body into the music. She makes this music jump out at the audience. Kavafian is very captivating to watch, she grabs one's attention and doesn't let go until the music is over.
The final work of the evening was Elgar's Symphony No. 1 in A flat major. Silverstein and the orchestra did a tremendous job with this work, keeping it afloat in spite of the heavy orchestration typical for Elgar's music. This was no small task on Silverstein's part. He managed to make the work exciting.
Silverstein kept the orchestra finely balanced and kept everything in perspective. This was a fine performance of this symphony that brought out the strongly emotional character of the music.