The Russians sweep the field in the Utah Symphony's final summer concert, with music by Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky in a wonderfully narrative and descriptive vein. The evening concludes with what has become a tradition - the rendition of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.
But before this musical war in miniature captivates the audience, there's the summer magic of excerpts from two ballet scores.And while this score cries out for dancers, it's of interest, and a minor revelation, to bring the music of Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" out of the pit to center stage, where its felicities can be examined in greater detail and with less distraction. It bears up as wonderfully descriptive music, so communicative that it almost bespeaks the Shakespearean narrative in music alone.
The Capitol Theatre is not the kindest venue soundwise, with its occasional dead spots and a tendency to muffle and discolor orchestral tones. This was most noticeable in the beginning of the Prokofiev, where episodic wisps of instruments tended to separate and fall apart in the reflective Romeo Alone theme. Nor was the Market Dance especially well-coordinated.
But with the first bold, sweeping chords and pounding rhythms of the ball, things took off for Henderson and the players. Music of the first act pas de deux resonates with its achingly moonlit melody, as does the lovers' morning farewell in Juliet's bed chamber.
The duel scene, undistracted by onstage swordplay, shines forth as a wondrous patchwork with its interchange of a thousand little sword thrusts, building to a general melee in sound.
It is in the Capulet Crypt that you find the climactic heart of this music, sweeping up and away with heartbreaking nobility, then sinking to the piteous quiet of the lovers' deaths.
Shostakovich was obliged to employ his vast talents for a party line bit of ballet propaganda in "The Golden Age" (1930), but thanks be that art knows no communism, fascism or capitalism. Indeed, this music makes a good partner for the clear-textured Prokofiev, with its equal clarity, voices easy to follow, and melodic appeal. Here the orchestra comes into its own, performing a suite well-constructed for orchestra with little balletic reference as such, though the melodies are certainly danceable.
The Introduction immediately engages the interest, with canonic scurrying that suggests the busy footwork of a soccer team mandated by the libretto. This sounds better than it reads, there's a certain '20s charm to it.
The Adagio takes to unabashed romanticism, with woodwinds and violin alternating in solo themes, then a variety of instruments folding in, with just enough dissonance for a piquant mix. The Polka is well-known, a charming little musical joke with its pert xylophone; and the lively closing Danse smacks of carnival or circus - never mind that it's ordered to suggest world solidarity.
On to the piece de resistance, the redoubtable 1812 Overture, which is a French and Russian war in miniature, shot through with heroic Russian themes and hymns, intermingled with the stirring Marseillaise. This year's gimmick is eight little brass cannons, which fire at random (but on the beat) for a delightful toylike effect.