UTAH PHILHARMONIA, Libby Gardner Concert Hall, Thursday
Beethoven's "Choral" Fantasy, op. 80, is an anomaly in his output. It defies categorization — it tries to be a piano sonata, then a concerto, and when the chorus and soloists finally enter, it becomes a new hybrid form.
It could be considered a prototype for his Ninth Symphony — the first symphony to incorporate vocal soloists and a chorus. But no matter how one may label it, the "Choral" Fantasy is a charming work, captivating in its simplicity and, at the same time, its complexity.
The "Choral" Fantasy opened the University of Utah's school of music scholarship concert Thursday in Libby Gardner Concert Hall. Performing was the Utah Philharmonia under the baton of Robert Baldwin. Joining them were the University of Utah Singers and A Cappella Choir and soloists Melissa Heath and Rachel Duff, sopranos; Josette Cross, alto; Shane Haag, tenor; and John Walker, bass. Pianist was Kristofer Michaels, whose playing throughout was crisp and clean and very musical. He is a young artist who has a lot of talent and shows great promise.
The two choruses and the soloists gave a solid performance that was both lyrical and forceful, and the orchestra played wonderfully.
The only other work on the program was Holst's "The Planets." This is quite an imposing work, even for professional orchestras, but the Philharmonia gave a convincing and dynamic performance that showed that the orchestra is more than up to the challenges Baldwin throws it. There was certainly a professional quality about the performance Thursday.
From the opening measures of the first movement ("Mars, the Bringer of War"), the orchestra dove right into the complexities of the score and gave an articulate and wonderfully crafted reading.
And that held true for the rest of the work as well. Baldwin knew what he wanted and he knows the orchestra well enough to elicit a stunningly nuanced and compelling performance that had everything one could wish for in "The Planets."
Baldwin's account captured the rich palette of orchestral colors. He brought out the power and drama and also the finely crafted lyricism of the music. It was wonderfully expressive and musically satisfying.
Of special note was the beautifully played "Venus, the Bringer of Peace," with a finely wrought solo by concertmaster Maria Dance, and the evocative "Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age." Both movements were played with poetic elegance.