UTAH SYMPHONY CHAMBER ORCHESTRA AND UTAH SYMPHONY CHORUS, Anton Armstrong conducting; Sunday evening, July 15, Libby Gardner Concert Hall; one performance only.
Breaking out of its routine, the Utah Symphony Chamber Orchestra, joined by the Utah Symphony Chorus, gave its first-ever concert in Libby Gardner Hall on the University of Utah campus Sunday evening. Under the baton of guest conductor Anton Armstrong, they performed a program of 20th century English choral music.
Armstrong, who is a choral conductor, did a credible job. Performing works by John Rutter and Ralph Vaughan Williams, he showed that he possesses a solid grip on the music. And although the performances were less than remarkable, they were nevertheless nuanced and structured and presented in an engaging manner.
The first half of the concert was devoted to Rutter's Requiem. Rutter is without question the most significant choral composer today. He doesn't blaze new trails with his music, which is traditional and deeply entrenched in tonality, although conceptually it's indebted to a certain extent to Benjamin Britten.
What sets Rutter apart from his contemporaries is that his music is simple, straightforward and totally unpretentious, and Armstrong captured these qualities perfectly in his performance. He let the music speak for itself and stand on its own merits. To this end, he was aided by the Utah Symphony Chamber Orchestra and the Utah Symphony Chorus, both of whom performed flawlessly, and by soprano Jennifer Larson, whose luxuriant voice radiated warmth in "Pie Jesu" and "Lux aeterna."
The remainder of the program was taken up with three works by Vaughan Williams. After a stirring performance of "Clap Your Hands," Larson returned onstage, along with alto Doris Brunatti, tenor Todd Miller and baritone Steven Meredith, for "Serenade to Music," one of Vaughan Williams' loveliest works.
With a text taken from Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice," the music in "Serenade" sweeps along serenely and dreamily, as if floating on clouds. The piece opens with a lengthy solo for violin, exquisitely played by assistant concertmaster David Park, out of which, the voices seem to flow lazily. "Serenade" was easily the high point of the evening.
The concert closed out with Meredith joining the chorus and orchestra in the "Five Mystical Songs," on poems by George Herbert. Meredith's soft and lyrical voice was well-suited to these spiritual pieces. He sang them with tender expression and gentle conviction, giving them an air of quiet resignation.