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Pianist makes long-delayed debut in S.L.

Thibaudet, Lockhart put on a mostly exquisite concert

UTAH SYMPHONY, Abravanel Hall, additional performance tonight, 8 p.m., 355-2787

Jean-Yves Thibaudet finally made his long overdue Utah Symphony debut Friday evening, under the baton of music director Keith Lockhart, on the orchestra's opening night concert.

Originally, the French pianist was scheduled to appear with Lockhart and the orchestra a few years earlier, for its season opener in 2001. But the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, a few days before the concert , prevented Thibaudet from traveling to Salt Lake City from his home in Paris. And, as it turned out, four years would have to pass before he was able to reschedule his local debut.

In 2001, Thibaudet had planned on playing Richard Strauss' famously (or infamously) demanding "Burleske." For this weekend's concerts, Thibaudet decided on another — and better known — but no less technically challenging work, Liszt's Concerto No. 1 in E flat major.

Thibaudet is a wonderfully talented and expressive pianist, and the Liszt concerto is a fine vehicle for him to show off his technical prowess as well as his lyrical side.

The concerto tests the soloist's mettle, and for the most part Thibaudet gave a stellar performance that captured the drama that is played out in the music.

However, Friday's performance was not without a few problems. Thibaudet rushed headlong into the opening, with its cascades of rapid octaves. While not without effect, his playing of this section was muddled, rough, undefined and confused.

Thibaudet fared much better in the lyrical passages of the opening section of this one-movement concerto. And in particular, the quasi adagio section was played with infinite beauty.

The orchestra played exquisitely under Lockhart, and associate principal clarinet Russell Harlow opened the concerto with a radiant solo.

Thibaudet rewarded the obligatory standing ovation that Utah Symphony audiences award every soloist who graces the stage of Abravanel Hall with an encore, a nicely wrought reading of Chopin's popular Nocturne in E flat.

The major work of the evening was Rachmaninoff's monumental hourlong Symphony No. 2 in E minor, which Lockhart dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The E minor symphony luxuriates in some of Rachmaninoff's most romantic writing, with intoxicatingly lush harmonies and voluptuous melodies, which he presents and develops expansively.

Lockhart's reading captured the richness of the texture. However, all too frequently, Lockhart's tempos allowed the music to drag. He did bring out the passion and dramatic fervor of the music, but too often it was thwarted by his languid tempos.

The orchestra once again played luminously. Principal clarinet Tad Calcara played his solo in the beginning of the third movement wonderfully. And the brass and percussion sections were exceptional.

The concert opened with Shostakovich's rousing "Festive Overture."