TANNER GIFT OF MUSIC, Utah Symphony, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Conference Center, Friday

It took the combined effort of the Utah Symphony and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to finally lure Erich Kunzel to Salt Lake City — at least, that's what it seemed like.

Surprisingly, the man known as the "nation's conductor" has had to wait until now to make his belated Salt Lake debut. But it was well worth the wait to see him lead the Utah Symphony and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in a concert of American music.

Kunzel, who has directed the Cincinnati Pops for more than three decades, made a glorious debut Friday at this year's Tanner Gift of Music concert in the LDS Conference Center doing what he does best — giving his audience a memorable evening of Broadway tunes, as well as some patriotic pieces and spiritual songs.

Kunzel is a delight on the podium. He is in his element with this kind of music, and there is hardly anyone who does it better. And even though this is Kunzel's first appearance with the Utah Symphony and the Tabernacle Choir, he is no stranger to the choir — he conducted them in Cincinnati during their last major United States tour a couple of years back.

Kunzel opened both halves of the program with some rousing pieces — the orchestral "Celebration Fanfare" by Steven Reinecke to get things started, and "Call of the Champions," John Williams' piece written for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Joining Kunzel were vocalists Denyce Graves and Brian Stokes Mitchell, both of whom were absolutely stunning in the pieces they sang.

Among Graves' selections was a wonderful set of American show tunes that included songs by Richard Rodgers, George Gershwin and Cole Porter. She also gave a touching rendition with Mitchell of "Wheels of A Dream" from Stephen Flaherty's show "Ragtime."

Mitchell, who has a gorgeously deep and burnished baritone, came close to stealing the show with his touching rendition of "The Impossible Dream" from Mitch Leigh's "Man of La Mancha."

Thanks to former director Craig Jessop's legacy, the choir sounded magnificent at Friday's concert, singing flawlessly with beautiful intonation and crystalline articulation, especially in their signature "Battle Hymn of the Republic," performed as one of two encores. The second was a stirring "Stars and Stripes Forever" that finished with the choir and the two soloists joining the orchestra.


E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com