Of the various themes that have pervaded this year's Utah Symphony programs - the search for a new music director, the great romantic concertos etc. - the one that has involved music director Joseph Silverstein the most has been his seasonlong survey of the nine Beethoven symphonies.
Thus Friday at Abravanel Hall, to finish off the orchestra's regular classical subscription series, we got the alpha and omega of that corpus, Symphonies No. 1 and 9.That's not surprising. Silver-stein's Ninth has long been one of his most impactive Beethoven interpretations, and a consistent best-seller. And once again a large and somewhat younger-than-usual audience responded warmly to the result. Indeed, from the whoops that came from the back of the auditorium, you'd have thought it was the "1812" Overture.
Which is to say this Ninth still packs a wallop. But despite its overall punch and directness, I have the impression, as I did with his "Eroica" earlier this season, that Silverstein has mellowed a bit in this work. And I don't think that's a function of his employing, for the first time in these parts, the new Jonathan Del Mar edition, with its 900-plus textual changes.
Rather it has to do with his finding a bit more depth and maturity in this still-revolutionary opus. Thus, for all its cumulative force and crack-of-doom climaxes, one sensed more darkness amid the drama of the opening movement. Even the similarly virile scherzo did not seem to be pushed quite as hard, and one was made aware of all kinds of details, whether in the disciplined thwack of the timpani or the clarity of the woodwinds (e.g., the almost sprightly trio).
After which came the controlled serenity of the Adagio, its climaxes taken in tempo - i.e., not broadened, as is so often the case - and the cosmic yet human drama of the concluding "Ode to Joy."
Here, moreover, it was made all the more human by the singing of an outstanding solo quartet and the way the conductor seemed to anticipate their entry with his vocal shadings of the otherwise incisive introductory material. Hence the main theme built from near-subterranean stirrings to an effulgent climax, paving the way for baritone Christopheren Nomura's intoning of "O Freunde, nicht diese Toene," at once noble yet wonderfully open in sound and feeling.
Against that Lieder-like sensibility came Elizabeth Byrne's easefully dramatic soprano, Jon Garrison's joyfully militant tenor solo and the warmth of Karen Brunssen's mezzo. Nor despite some mushiness early on, did the Utah Symphony Chorus fall short. Witness the lift and exultancy with which they rounded off the fugue and the solidity of the men in "Seid umschlungen."
By contrast the First Symphony, which opened the evening, seemed a mite bottom-heavy in places, for example the otherwise vigorous first-movement Allegro and semi-hearty minuet (which nonetheless built to a strong finish). But I liked the resilient pizzicati with which the piece opened and the way Silverstein's left-right seating of the violins let the theme travel around the orchestra in the firmly paced Andante.
Ditto his attention to dynamic markings in the finale, which gained some spring in its step as it went along. Still, it was the Ninth that seemed the more youthful of the two here, and that despite the added maturity.