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Utah Symphony delivers dynamo of a performance

UTAH SYMPHONY, Abravanel Hall, Friday.

It was a good weekend to attend the symphony. The program was good; the performance was good — and the guest pianist was great.

The center of attention Friday was Jon Kimura Parker's exciting performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor.

From the opening chord, Parker started the piece with a punch and never let up. Strong and virile, he infused the music with masculine bravura.

Of course, he backed off for some lovely slower parts, particularly the second movement. But the dazzling pyrotechnics of the first and the third movements — especially at the end, when he lifted off the bench and was almost standing — brought audience members to their feet for an enthusiastic ovation.

In fact, the ovation was so enthusiastic that Parker acquiesced to an encore — Scott Joplin's "Solace," which Parker described as "a little something that's quiet, so my arm will stop vibrating." Here, Parker demonstrated delicacy and lyricism to round out the prior dynamo performance.

The concert started in a considerably more delicate vein with Jennifer Higdon's "blue cathedral." This ethereal, evocative work written by a living composer is friendly enough to invite even reluctant newcomers to 21st-century music. One of the most interesting parts came at the end, where most of the orchestra took what looked like small balls and shook them for a distant, tinkling sound.

Both of these pieces were bridged with a large masterpiece — Beethoven's Symphony No. 4, which is the lesser-known but considerably happier brother of some of the composer's other symphonies. And the ebullient spirit was in keeping with the generally positive tone of the music throughout the evening.

The Utah Symphony generally gave a strong performance, except for a few entrances, which were sometimes noticeably ragged, and which occurred in the other pieces, as well.