Review: Soloist Inon Barnatan's insightful performance lets Beethoven shine
It's a good night at the symphony when you walk away thinking, "That soloist has some impressive skills," but there's also something to be said for performances that make you walk away thinking, "That's a truly great piece of music."
Pianist Inon Barnatan's performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 with the Utah Symphony on Friday was one of the latter occasions. His focus wasn't on virtuoso fireworks; instead, he drew in the listener with his interpretive skill. In preconcert remarks, Barnatan said he's among those for whom this concerto's slow movement evokes the story of Orpheus taming the gatekeepers of the underworld so he can retrieve his wife, Eurydice. The dialogue between the piano and orchestra seemed to bear out this interpretation. Barnatan's quiet but insistent entreaties were most persuasive. Under the direction of guest conductor Matthias Pintscher, the orchestra began the movement with a stern demeanor that gradually melted away.
The soloist continued in a reflective vein even in the lively finale, when he had some beautiful interactions with the orchestra's cellos and violas.
By the way, Barnatan's affinity for the Abravanel Hall Steinway probably shouldn't come as a surprise: He was on hand last spring at the New York City piano factory to help a committee from the orchestra choose the instrument.
Guest conductor Pintscher is also an active composer, and this weekend's concerts opened with his brief tone poem "towards Osiris." In light of the purported Orpheus association in the Beethoven concerto, it's an interesting coincidence that this concert-opener also involves a mythological figure bringing a spouse back from the dead. It depicts the Egyptian goddess Isis bringing together the fragments of Osiris' body after he was killed and dismembered by his brother. The conductor led the Utah Symphony in a colorful reading highlighted by Jeff Luke's trumpet solos and a particularly virtuosic turn by the percussion section.
The concert closed with Dvorak's Symphony No. 8. This symphony may be overshadowed by the extremely famous "New World" Symphony that follows it in the Dvorak canon, but it's no less enjoyable, and Pintscher and the Utah Symphony gave a most involving performance. A fine trumpet solo by Travis Peterson and expressive playing by the woodwind section were among the highlights.
Music of Beethoven, Dvorak and Matthias Pintscher
With • Conductor Matthias Pintscher and pianist Inon Barnatan
When • Reviewed Friday, Jan. 10; repeats Saturday, Jan. 11, 8 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $23-$60; visit bit.ly/1jfMrsg
Running time • Two hours, including intermission
Learn more • Pintscher, Barnatan and Utah Symphony VP Toby Tolokan will have an onstage chat about the music at 7 p.m.