Review: Utah Symphony offers a splendid concert of French music
Review • Orchestra offers splendid concert of Debussy and Ravel.
Published: December 7, 2012 11:02PM
Updated: April 8, 2013 11:32PM

No blockbuster hits or household-name soloists are on the Utah Symphony bill this weekend — just some of the best music-making so far this season in an elegant all-French program.

The concert features two works apiece by Debussy and Ravel; the soloist is Paris-born pianist Pascal Rogé. And while not French himself, guest conductor Jun Märkl has been decorated by the French culture ministry for his recordings of Debussy and his six seasons leading the Orchestre National de Lyon.

Rogé is the soloist in Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major, a piece that’s something of a calling card for him. The piece pivots between breathtaking delicacy and jazzy insouciance, and Rogé and the orchestra moved effortlessly between the two in Friday’s performance. Whether projecting the softest pianissimos to the back of the hall or racing through the virtuoso passages of the finale, the soloist played with purpose and clarity. His use of the pedal was impeccable. The orchestra likewise impressed, with colorful woodwinds and unusually expressive strings.

Märkl seemed to be in close sympathy with the orchestra all evening as, together, they sculpted phrases of utmost elegance and control. Their playing of the opening pages of Ravel’s “Rapsodie espagnole” could serve as a lesson in how to shape dynamics, and the rhapsody’s final movement fairly burst with color and life. Yet even at the music’s busiest and loudest, the orchestra’s playing was refined. Each of the woodwind sections earned a nod of acknowledgment from Märkl at the conclusion, but Lissa Stolz’s playing on the English horn was a particular standout.

The first half of the concert featured Debussy’s impressions of Spain in the three-movement orchestral showpiece “Iberia.” The piece depicts Spanish life at various hours of the day. The bold primary colors of the first movement, “Through Streets and Lanes,” contrasted nicely with the deep blues of the dreamlike second movement, “The Fragrances of the Night.” Guitar-style strumming by the violins and violas and a Gypsy-flavored solo by concertmaster Ralph Matson highlighted the finale, “Morning of a Feast-Day.”

The evening opened with Debussy’s “Petite Suite,” whose delicate pastel tones allowed the orchestra to show off its versatility as well as the composer’s.

Twitter: @cathycomma

Utah Symphony

P Music of Debussy and Ravel.

With • Conductor Jun Märkl and pianist Pascal Rogé.

When • Reviewed Friday; repeats tonight at 8.

Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City.

Running time • Two hours, including intermission.

Tickets • $23-$72 at or 801-355-ARTS.

Learn more • Märkl and Rogé will discuss the music with Utah Symphony VP Toby Tolokan onstage at 7 p.m. Free for ticket holders.