UTAH SYMPHONY with violist Paul Neubauer, Joseph Silverstein conducting, Abravanel Hall, Friday evening, March 12; second performance, Saturday, March 13, 8 p.m.; tickets available through ArtTix, 355-2787.
Conductor-laureate Joseph Silverstein couldn't have chosen a better program with which to make his triumphant return to the helm of the Utah Symphony. Haydn and Elgar are two composers for which the venerable maestro has a particular affinity, and he was in rare form Friday night.Silverstein's conscientious attention to structure and counterpoint served the Haydn symphony No.99 particularly well. He brought out each contrapuntal line of the adagio movement and had a great feel for the architecture of the phrases. The wit of the Allegretto movement was peppered with punchy accents, and the finale was a carnival of humor.
Silverstein's chamber music colleague Paul Neubauer shifted the mood to a more sentimental, romantic bent with his passionate rendition of Sir William Walton's Viola Concerto. The mellow tone of the viola is a rarity in front of an orchestra, and Neubauer mastered all of his instrument's expressive capabilities. He played the lively, exuberant second movement with excitement and precision and pulled out all of the emotional stops for the soulful 3rd movement. His duet with bass clarinetist Edward Cabarga was especially moving.
Silverstein's finest moments were during Sir Edward Elgar's "Enigma" variations. Elgar wrote a theme and thirteen variations, each representing one of his close friends. The "Enigma" is a hidden theme that fits over the main theme, and musicologists have speculated that it could be anything from "Rule Britannia" to "Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star."
Silverstein's subtlety, patience and spacing made the stately "Nimrod Variation" especially moving. Elgar based it on his publisher, who he said "grew nobly eloquent on the grandeur of Beethoven, especially the slow movements." Silverstein infused this section with the Grandeur of the Pastorale Symphony, leaving the audience spellbound.
Other Elgar highlights included the soaring W.M.B. variation; the rollicking G.R.S. variation; (based on an organist and his Bulldog) Ysobel, featuring a viola solo by Chris McKellar and B.G.N. featuring Ryan Selburg on cello. The Romanza variation, which freely quotes Mendelssohn's "Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage Overture" ominously set up the robust finale, which Silverstein paced beautifully, garnering a standing ovation.