The Utah Symphony and music director Thierry Fischer launched their two-week Saint-Saëns festival on Friday. The concert, recorded as part of a three-album deal with European label Hyperion, included two of the composer’s most popular works along with a rarity.
The sacred and the profane duked it out on the first half: the “Bacchanale” from the opera “Samson and Delilah,” followed by three tableaus from Saint-Saëns’ incidental music for the 19th-century play “La Foi,” or “Faith.” The reflective music from “La Foi” featured outstanding contributions from harpist Louise Vickerman and the woodwind principals, along with a stirring trombone solo by Mark Davidson. But the crisp, urgent performance of the “Bacchanale,” highlighted by some next-level castanet and triangle playing from Keith Carrick and Eric Hopkins, respectively, was the clear audience favorite.
The major work was Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3, nicknamed the “Organ” Symphony because that instrument has such a prominent role. Juilliard organ professor Paul Jacobs is doing the honors this week. It isn’t the most technically challenging music for an organist; as Jacobs observed in a preconcert interview, it’s all about the registrations, or the sets of pipes the soloist chooses. And Jacobs chose well. Presumably recognizing that an electronic instrument in Abravanel Hall can never have the same seat-rattling effect as the mighty Tabernacle organ across the street, he focused on musical coloration rather than sheer power. Jason Hardink’s sparkling piano offered the perfect complement.
Fischer and the orchestra will be back next week with soloist Louis Lortie in Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2, plus the lesser-known symphony “Urbs Roma” and the ever-popular “Carnival of the Animals.”
Music of Camille Saint-Saëns, including the “Organ” Symphony.
With • Conductor Thierry Fischer and organist Paul Jacobs
When • Reviewed Friday, Dec. 1; repeats Saturday, Dec. 2, at 7:30 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Running time • Nearly 2 hours, including intermission
Tickets • $20-$88; utahsymphony.org