UTAH SYMPHONY AND CHORUS, Abravanel Hall, Friday and Saturday

Keith Lockhart was in opening-night mode Friday as he began his 11th and final season as music director of the Utah Symphony.

On the program were two works by Beethoven — the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major and the Ninth Symphony.

It's been several years since Lockhart has conducted Beethoven's "Choral" Symphony, but it's a work that is tailor-made for him for an opening-night concert.

Constructed on a grand scale — the largest and longest symphony of its time — it unfortunately also lends itself to a display of pomposity.

And that's exactly how Lockhart perceives the first concert of a new season should be — a bombastic outburst, no matter how the work in question will suffer for it.

This past weekend, it was the Ninth that was made to suffer.

There was nothing nuanced in Lockhart's handling of the work — it was overdone, overplayed and about as subtle as hitting a brick wall at 90 mph.

Lockhart made no attempt at trying to grasp the deeper elements that are in this symphony. The opening of the first movement, for example, is wonderfully atmospheric — a mysterious mist of sound that foreshadows the openings of Bruckner's symphonies. Yet at Friday's performance, this was reduced to its simplest component — noise.

There were a few bright spots, though. The Utah Symphony played wonderfully, and the Utah Symphony Chorus sang magnificently.

The four soloists (soprano Lori Phillips; mezzo-soprano Mary Phillips; tenor Robert Breault; and bass-baritone Alfred Walker) were also generally solid. Lori Phillips sounded a bit shrill, however, as she tried to soar above the chorus and orchestra at times. And despite having a cold, Breault triumphed Friday evening, singing his demanding solo ("Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen") with conviction.

Also playing with conviction Friday was Garrick Ohlsson, soloist for the concerto and perennial Utah Symphony favorite.

Hardly any pianist today can make his instrument sing the way Ohlsson can. He is a musician's musician. His playing Friday was effortless and fluid and gorgeously expressive.

Ohlsson captured the lyricism of the work magnificently. He didn't try to make something out of the concerto that it isn't — there weren't any dramatics or theatricality in his interpretation. Instead, it was a gloriously warm, richly romantic and effusively mellifluous reading that was, simply put, sheer poetry.


E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com