UTAH SYMPHONY, Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Keith Lockhart conducting. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 21-22, Abravanel Hall.
Some say less is more, but when it comes to the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, more guitars — four, to be precise — is definitely better.
As guest artists of the Utah Symphony this weekend, the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet displayed their musical and technical virtuosity. The down side is that the program selection — Rodrigo's "Concerto Andaluz for Four Guitars and Orchestra" — really didn't maximize the players' capabilities.
For example, the first movement heavily used the guitars in unison strumming accompaniment figures. Occasionally one or two would play together, but Rodrigo too often pitted the soft-spoken guitars against the entire symphony, which generally seemed unfair to the guitars. Fortunately, the second movement featured a lot more "solo" time (meaning all four guitars) and cross-gestures between the guitars, which was a lot more interesting.
Generally speaking, when the guitars had a chance to interact as a real quartet, they were fantastic, but they weren't given that opportunity very often in the piece, and the general symphonic writing wasn't all that interesting.
It wasn't until the encore (in the middle of the program), when the guitar quartet played an impassioned "Ritual Fire Dance" by Manuel de Falla that the talented guitarists got a chance to really show what they can do. These guys would be great to have back in a recital-type, solo setting.
The symphony itself came to life in the second half in a vibrant performance of Christopher Rouse's "Rapture," which was an excellent program choice to show off the orchestra's capabilities. Ever subtly, smoothly transitioning into the eventual climax, the symphony gave a strong, clean performance of this wonderful piece. Timpanist George Brown got a chance to shine in some great timpani passages toward the end of the piece.
An equally well-done "Church Windows" by Respighi followed, which encompassed a wider range of moods and colors, and like the Rouse piece, ended in a triumphant climax. This one employed the organ, which augmented the orchestra nicely but the organist's choice of stops came across as much less exciting than the rest of the orchestra's performance.