Guest conductor Maximiano Valdes offered his Utah Symphony audience an exciting concert Friday evening with a program featuring the music of Hungary's two greatest composers of the first half of the 20th century: Zoltan Kodaly and Bela Bartok. Along with these two composers, Valdes and the orchestra also performed Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, with Jon Nakamatsu as soloist.
Nakamatsu, last year's winner of the prestigious Van Cliburn Piano Competition, is the first American to win this honor in nearly two decades, playing, incidentally, this concerto, along with Rachmaninov's Third, at the final round of the Van Cliburn.Nakamatsu, fortunately, exhibited his virtuosity on his instrument without too many of the unnecessary hand and arm gestures so prevalent among far too many pianists today.
Nakamatsu played the Beethoven crisply and precisely, without pomposity, doing justice to this very Mozartean work.
The slow second movement was played beautifully by both soloist and orchestra, both parts were melded together immaculately, and the simplicity of the melody was brought out by both soloist and orchestra, who infused the music with a profoundness that was direct and sincere.
The last movement, on the other hand, felt rushed and was taken at a tempo that was just too fast for the music to be fully enjoyed. It was as if the soloist, who determines the tempo in this movement by being the one who presents the main theme unaccompanied at the beginning, decided to get this thing over with once and for all.
The audience gave Nakamatsu a standing ovation at the end of his performance that was not really quite deserved - he was outstanding but not brilliant.
The concert opened with a superb performance of Kodaly's "Dances of Galanta" and ended with Bartok's masterful five-movement Concerto for Orchestra.
The Utah Symphony performed these two works with the dazzling virtuosity that both, but especially the Bartok, demand, and Valdes showed himself to be a fantastic interpreter of this music.
The audience also rewarded both conductor and orchestra with a truly well-deserved standing ovation for such a brilliant performance.