The Utah Symphony season ended as it opened, with an iconic German Violin Concerto. In September, the first concert of the season featured Hilary Hahn playing the Brahms, and on Friday evening, the last concert of the season featured Veronika Eberle performing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.
In addition to the structural and aspirational similarities between the two pieces, they also share a connection with Joseph Joachim, the virtuoso who made his concert debut playing Beethoven and also performed the world premiere of Brahms. At the time of their creation, both pieces were considered so difficult, Joachim was one of the few violinists who could play them.
The Beethoven began deliberately and somewhat heavily, with musical director Thierry Fischer paying particular attention to the articulation and phrasing of not only the melody, but also the busy contrapuntal line in the lower strings. Dressed in an elegant turquoise dress, Eberle closed her eyes during the extended orchestral overture and swayed with the music. She entered with authority and her opening passage went with an emphatic yet refined quality.
This quality permeated the first movement, with the German violinist’s expressive phrasing, varied articulation and generous tone giving the virtuoso passages a clear melodic structure. She kept the melody overt during the devilishly difficult cadenza of the first movement, which features triple stops and occasionally requires the violin to play both a melodic and contrapuntal line.
In the second movement, Fischer gave the orchestral passages a subdued, anticipatory energy that slowly turned into moments of exquisite sweetness. Eberle’s soulful musicianship shines through in the exposed, sparsely accompanied passages of movement, and his phrasing is rich and nuanced.
Eberle and the orchestra played the dancing third movement with graceful delight. His technique dazzled while his expressive articulation and varied tone kept the furiously fast passages compelling with every iteration.
Like last week, Friday’s concert also included two movements from Messiaen’s magnum opus From the Canyons to the Stars…(“From the Canyons to the Stars…”), which the orchestra will perform in its entirety in 12 movements at Zion National Park on June 2.
While they had much the same ensemble – a chamber orchestra with percussion and piano – this week’s selections had a more ethereal and contemplative quality than last week’s birdsong-inspired excerpts.
“Les Ressucites et de l’etoile Aldebaran” is a call and response between magnificent atmospheric sonorities in the strings and winds, and furious chromatic patterns in the piano, glockenspiel and piccolo. “Zion Park et la Cite Celeste” (Zion Park and the Celestial City) expands the call-and-response pattern into a repeating sequence of different combinations and moods; the piano plays atmospheric chords and chromatic leads in different sections and the orchestra alternates majestic chords with soft, ethereal string passages. The sequence also included frantic bursts of percussion in wooden blocks, chimes, cymbals and gongs.
Fischer and the orchestra gave the Messiaen a conscientious and often inspired interpretation. Playing without a score, lead keyboardist Jason Hardink displayed fierce technique as well as breathtaking musicianship, delivering both percussive power and orchestral color. Fischer paid particular attention to timbre hues, taking his time with stately chords and adding vibrato and dynamic flourishes to celestial string passages.
The evening ended with a delightful performance by Ravel Daphnis and Chloe, Suite No. 2. This Ravel favorite played to Fischer’s trump cards, and his interpretation was intoxicating. The atmospheric start slowly developed into a shimmering melody in the strings and a soaring climax in the full orchestra. Lead flautist Mercedes Smith played her solo passages with nimble technique and free phrasing, and concertmaster Madeline Adkins also showed off her deft musicality in her spotlight-lit violin passages. The piece’s resplendent finish lifted the audience to a thunderous ovation for both the concert and this successful comeback season.
The program will be repeated on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the Abravanel room. utahsymphony.org