KIRILL GERSTEIN WITH THE UTAH SYMPHONY, Abravanel Hall, Friday; additional performance tonight, 8 p.m. (355-2787).
Of the four piano concertos that Rachmaninoff wrote, the first and last have never gained general acceptance among the public. Why that is so is not easy to explain, since these two concertos are as luxuriantly romantic and contain as much fiery pianism and sentimental melodies as the other two.
The First PIano Concerto carries the designation opus 1, yet in its present form was revised after the Second and Third Concertos were written. In this version, it has much in common structurally, thematically and harmonically with the other two.
Perhaps, if one were to look at it cynically, the reason that the First and Fourth have never achieved lasting popularity lies in the fact that the Hollywood of the 1940s never discovered them. Yet the third movement has one of the most gorgeously romantic themes Rachmaninoff ever penned, rivaling those found in the Second and Third Concertos. But Hollywood apparently never came across it and set words to the tune and used it in a film.
But sarcasm aside, the First Concerto is Rachmaninoff at his undeniable best.
This concerto is on the Utah Symphony's program this weekend, played by the young Russian virtuoso Kirill Gerstein, whose performance Friday was both mesmerizing and revealing.
Gerstein is a dynamic pianist who possesses astonishing technique and impressive musicality. He made the pyrotechnics look easy, while never letting them be mere empty displays of virtuosity.
Conducting the Utah Symphony this weekend is Eri Klas, who showed remarkable intuitiveness in the Rachmaninoff, allowing Gerstein the freedom he needed to play this immensely demanding work.
Balancing the Rachmaninoff is Shostakovich's Fifteenth Symphony, his last foray into the form, written in 1971, four years before his death.
Shostakovich refined musical irony and elevated it to high art. But for him, this irony became a means in itself and one of the dominant factors in his music.
The Fifteenth revels in parody and irony, particularly in the first movement, where the theme from the "William Tell" overture is cleverly woven into the musical fabric. But there is much more to the work in its highly charged emotional state and searing intensity. Klas captured this stunningly . He gave a wonderfully lucid and insightful reading that forcefully brought out the work's humor, drama, pathos and energy.
The concert opened with Arvo Part's richly textured "Festina Lente" for strings.