Every now and then a musician will play an old workhorse with such nuance and freshness that all the reasons why it has become a concert mainstay are remembered.
This was the case with Benjamin Grosvenor’s performance of Grieg’s Friday Night Piano Concerto with the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall. Under the direction of Robert Trevino, who like Grosvenor was making his Utah Symphony debut, the Grieg was part of an eclectic program that also included the Petrushka and Sinfonia n ° 4 “Strands” by 20e century American composer George Walker.
A favorite of piano competitions and high school concerto nights, Grieg’s concerto bravery and strong, climactic chords sometimes make performers and listeners forget about its subtle mood swings and beautiful melodic passages. Grosvenor emphasized the moving qualities of the piece in a way that made its virtuoso highlights even more powerful.
The concerto’s famous debut, with its tonic and dominant chords cascading down the length of the keyboard, was refreshingly understated, and it organically led to the first tutti, which Trevino and the orchestra treated with phrasing and a conscientious articulation. This, in turn, built on the main melancholy theme of the first movement, which showcased the British pianist’s refined musicality and his insight into the subtle emotional nuances of the concerto.
The emotional peak of the first movement was the cadence, which Grosvenor interpreted as a self-contained tragic aria in a free and spacious style with stark emotional contrasts. He played the trills and virtuoso races with comparable panache.
Grosvenor’s expressive interpretation of slow movement was aided by Trevino’s lovely phrasing on the strings. The movement had an ethereal quality that permeated even the playful passages of the scherzo. Grosvenor’s synergy with Trevino and the orchestra peaked in the triumphant finale, with an explosive finale that lifted the audience. The pianist conformed to an enchanting interpretation of Ginastera’s “Dance of the Beautiful Maiden”.
Although the Grieg may have been the highlight of the concert, it was marked by strong performances from two other fascinating pieces.
The concert began with Walker’s Sinfonia No. 4, nicknamed “Strands” because of the composer’s way of weaving disparate melodies. Pulitzer Prize winner and first African American to graduate from the Curtis Institute, Walker wrote the article in response to a commission to commemorate his own 90e birthday.
The work testifies to his mastery of thematic construction and orchestration. Highlighting the marimba and piano as well as strings, it had the eerie feel of film music for a Hitchcock movie, and Trevino’s performance was captivating and lucid.
Trevino also performed well in Stravinsky Petrushka continuation, mastering the “many atmospheres of offbeat ballet, from sardonic to tragic through jubilation. The play tells the tragic tale of a puppet in a doomed love triangle, and while it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it sums up the emergence of Stravinsky’s wholly original voice as the last play that he wrote before his riot. Rite of Spring.
Dissonant orchestral chords with frenzied rhythms quickly pass to musical box passages punctuated by comic notes on the bass clarinet. The orchestra skillfully mastered these mood and color changes, and the piece also featured individual lead musicians. Keyboardist Jason Hardink dazzled the piano virtuoso passages, and flautist Mercedes Smith interpreted his solo passage with sensitivity and a beautiful tone.
The program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Abravanel room. utahsymphony.org