UTAH SYMPHONY, VIOLINIST JAMES EHNES, Abravanel Hall, Friday; additional performance, tonight, 8 p.m. (355-2787)
James Ehnes isn't your average concert violinist. While he does play the standard works, he also has a number of concertos and shorter pieces that aren't played with any frequency in his repertoire as well. To get a better feel for who he is, you really need to know these two sides of his musical personality. And Utah Symphony audiences this weekend have that opportunity.
Making his debut with the orchestra this weekend, Ehnes plays two works — Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in the first half of the program and Ralph Vaughan Williams "The Lark Ascending" in the second.
To justify yet another performance of Mendelssohn's ubiquitous concerto, the soloist needs to bring something new to the work — not for the sake of being different but to generate some excitement for something so well-known.
And while that didn't happen Friday night, Ehnes certainly gave a dynamic performance of the concerto that captured its unbridled romanticism wonderfully.
The Canadian-born violinist played with passion. His account wasn't stale or trite — on the contrary, he managed to bring to the work what it needed through his exuberant and energy filled playing.
Ehnes is certainly technically astute and a fine musician, both of which were on display Friday — fiery virtuosity and finely honed lyricism went hand in hand in his interpretation.
Keith Lockhart, who conducts this weekend, accompanied with sensitivity, allowing the soloist the freedom to explore the work on his own terms.
After intermission, Ehnes returned onstage and gave a gorgeous reading of Vaughan Williams' early "The Lark Ascending." In this piece, the audience was able to witness Ehnes' beautifully crafted lyricism and richly colored expressiveness. Ehnes and Lockhart combined to capture the dreaminess of the piece. It was atmospheric and mesmerizing.
The second half concluded with Vaughan Williams' Eighth Symphony, written three years before his death when he was in his 80s.
Lockhart's interpretation was luminous, capturing the stringency and at the same time the lyricism of the music compellingly. All of its poignancy, drama and emotional energy was present. The orchestra gave a wondrous performance, and the numerous solos were played beautifully.
The concert opened with Mendelssohn's captivating "Ruy Blas" overture.