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Review: British conductor Wigglesworth wows the 'New World' faithful again

Published March 7, 2014 11:12 pm

Review • The British conductor impresses in 3 diverse symphonies.
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Week 2 of Mark Wigglesworth's Abravanel Hall visit proved as enjoyable as the first. The British conductor led the Utah Symphony in a program of three radically different symphonies.

Wigglesworth has quickly endeared himself to Utah Symphony audiences with his engaging podium presence and the rapport he appears to have established with the orchestra. He brings something special out of the players, who always give lively and attentive performances under his direction. Each of the three works on Friday's program felt like a living, breathing organism.

First up was Mozart's Symphony No. 35 ("Haffner"). From the orchestra's assertive opening statement, it was clear this was going to be a colorful and invigorating performance. Wigglesworth, conducting from memory, maintained a thread of dramatic tension without sacrificing any of the music's charm. Eric Hopkins' enthusiastic timpani playing put a nice exclamation point on the piece.

Next came Witold Lutoslawski's Symphony No. 4, which premiered in 1993. It was the Utah Symphony's first performance of this fantastically imaginative work. The orchestra produced an amazing range of musical colors and effects, from extreme delicacy to arresting hammer blows. The 22-minute work also includes several aleatoric sections in which various orchestra members play freely within certain guidelines. It was fascinating to hear the sound evolve and transform itself like a sonic kaleidoscope.

As big a draw as late 20th-century music must surely be, it was probably Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World") that was primarily responsible for Friday's healthy turnout. Wiggesworth conducted from memory again, with occasionally idiosyncratic effect. Even if you didn't agree with every conducting decision, the orchestra always followed his lead with pliable and natural phrasing.

Several individual contributions stood out. Lissa Stolz's sweet, sensitive delivery of the second movement's famous English horn solo brought palpable emotion into the hall. Flutists Mercedes Smith and Lisa Byrnes and clarinetist Tad Calcara also were stellar. An understated reading of the third movement paid off when Wigglesworth unleashed the brass and percussion in the finale. —

Utah Symphony

Music of Mozart, Lutoslawski and Dvorák.

With • Conductor Mark Wigglesworth.

When • Reviewed Friday, March 7; repeats Saturday, March 8, at 8 p.m.

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

Running time • Two hours, including intermission.

Tickets • $23 to $60 at http://www.utahsymphony.org.

Learn more • Wigglesworth will discuss the music with Utah Symphony VP Toby Tolokan onstage at 7 p.m.