Review: Fischer returns with varied lineup, from Haydn to Janáček
By Rick Mortensen
Thierry Fischer returned to the helm of the Utah Symphony Friday night for the first time this year to conduct a concert that bore the distinct hallmarks of his 13 seasons as music director.
The program featured a Haydn symphony, which has become a staple of Fischer’s tenure. And like so many of Fischer’s programs, Friday’s concert juxtaposed several contrasting pieces in a pointed way, following the Haydn with music of Alban Berg.
The concert’s centerpiece was Robert Fobbes’ delightful arrangement of themes from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute into a concertante Fantasy for flute and orchestra. Emmanuel Pahud, co-principal flute of the Berlin Philharmonic and a longtime Utah guest, played both the Fantasy and Carl Nielsen’s Flute Concerto.
Pahud’s technique, musicality, and charisma were on full display from his first entrance in the Mozart/Fobbes Fantasy.
He played from memory, swaying and at times, nearly dancing as he played. His tone in the low register was deep and rich, and it remained clear throughout the fireworks in the high register.
The form of the Fantasy is like a jazz chart: each well-known Magic Flute melody was played straight and then repeated with virtuosic flourishes and embellishments. Pahud took the first melody, from Pamina and Papageno’s duet, more slowly than it usually appears in the opera and gave it a stately, hymn-like quality. The embellished variation, though breathtakingly virtuosic, retained this quality, and the melodic line continued to sing.
This was the case through all the half-dozen or so melodies sampled, the highlight being the melody from Papageno’s famous expositional aria. During this section, Fischer surprised the audience by playing the pan-pipe solos on pipes that were hidden from view until the moment he piped in. As the whole, the Fantasy conveyed both the light-hearted character and the deeper spiritual underpinnings of its beloved source material.
The Nielsen Flute Concerto had a darker, weightier vibe, characterized by several contrasting and seemingly disjointed sections. Pahud reflected each change in mood with his tone, articulation, and phrasing. The first movement was characterized by furious staccato runs alternating with a legato pastoral melody backed by a lush orchestra backdrop, with a moody contrapuntal duet between the flute soloist and the clarinet seeming to appear out of nowhere. The second movement introduced a more wistful theme in the orchestra, with long phrases punctuated by flourishes in the flute, and also featured contrapuntal duets, this time with the viola and timpani.
Fischer and Pahud worked together to make the Nielsen’s different sections cohere while retaining the piece’s exploratory, uncertain quality.