UTAH SYMPHONY, Deer Valley Amphitheater, Friday

DEER VALLEY — One of the major problems with the Utah Symphony's outdoor concerts at the Deer Valley Amphitheater has been the sound system. For years with inferior amplification, the orchestra sounded as if it were playing in a giant Mason jar. The sound was unnatural at best.

This has gradually improved, fortunately, and this year, the sound coming from the amphitheater stage, thanks in part to better mic placement, has sounded pretty good, enhancing the listening experience a thousand fold — especially when Mozart's music is on the program, as it was Friday evening.

Symphony assistant conductor David Cho led the orchestra in a splendid concert that opened with a crisp and well-articulated reading of the overture to Mozart's "The Magic Flute" and ended with a superb perusal of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

In between these two works, the program included three concertos for bassoon, oboe and English horn featuring members of the symphony as soloists. Programming such a combination of concertos is somewhat unusual, but since the International Double Reed Society held its annual convention at Brigham Young University last week, the program was designed with that event in mind. And it turned out to be a delightful evening of concertos.

Principal bassoonist Lori Wike was featured in Brazilian composer's Francisco Mignone's Concertino. Written in 1957, the two-movement work is a delightfully lyrical gem of Brazilian inspired tunes and rhythms. Wike played with wonderful expressions and dynamics and Cho elicited a finely crafted performance from the orchestra.

Thom Ritter George's Oboe Concerto, which followed, was written for the Utah Symphony's principal oboist, Robert Stephenson. As with Mignone's piece, George's concerto is a wonderfully lyrical work that allows the soloist to display his chops, and Stephenson did just that. He played the four-movement work with polish and flair and finely delineated expressiveness.

The last of the three concertos was Marie Nelson Bennett's "Excursions," the English Horn concerto she wrote for the symphony's Holly Gornik. The most substantive of the three, "Excursions" is an intense and gorgeously orchestrated work that explores the solo instrument's range of expression. But what makes the work especially effective is the interplay between the English horn and the orchestra. The soloist is tantalizing, both as part of the orchestra but also always distant and apart. And Gornik gave a wonderfully articulated reading that was very expressive and lyrical and also dynamic and vivid.

While Cho did a fine job in these works, his true conducting talent displayed itself fully in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Cho was quite impressive on the podium. He is a young conductor with a tremendous amount of musicality and potential. He has a lot to offer, and his account of the Fifth was dynamic, forceful and vibrant. His tempos were well chosen, the music flowed naturally, and nothing sounded rushed. And the orchestra responded to his intelligent direction with playing that was radiant. It was an excellent collaboration, and hopefully Cho will be given more opportunities here to explore the symphonic repertoire.


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