REVIEW – Utah Chamber Artists show once again why they are among the best at what they do

UTAH CHAMBER ARTISTS, Collage Concert, “Chant and Contemplation,” Cathedral of the Madeleine, Sept. 19; second performance 8 p.m. Sept. 20, free

There is a simple reason why the collage concerts are among the Utah Chamber Artists’ most popular concerts each season. There is a wonderful variety in programming that makes them interesting; and, since they’re held in the Cathedral of the Madeleine, there is ample opportunity to explore the spatial possibilities the cathedral has to offer. And music director Barlow Bradford understands that like perhaps no one else.

Bradford utilizes the space available to his ensemble in the cathedral, which means the audience is surrounded by sound throughout the evening. And this year the musical experience is enhanced by Chip Dance’s very clever lighting, which includes illuminating the church’s stained glass windows from the outside. At Monday’s performance, this was well integrated into the overall concept of the concert – it wasn’t an extraneous element, but an integral part of the musical experience.

The focal point of the evening was J.A.C. Redford’s evocative “Rest Now, My Sister,” written to honor Redford’s sister who was murdered last year and which received its world premiere Monday. This is an intensely expressive piece for chorus and orchestra; it is emotionally powerful as it conveys feelings of pain, anguish and sorrow.

The choir gave a compelling account under Bradford’s direction that brought out the heartfelt emotions. This was underscored by the orchestra’s solid and gorgeously crafted playing that balanced well with the choir.

In fact, throughout the entire evening the choir sang with exquisite lyricism and feeling. They’re consummate musicians with impeccable technique and wonderful musicality; they are a joy to hear.

And the orchestra and the individual players who were spotlighted during the concert (many of whom are members of the Utah Symphony) played with finely crafted phrasings and beautifully polished and refined articulation. This came through in the opening movement of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 35; and the remarkable balance between the choir and orchestra was particularly wonderful in the “Hallelujah” chorus from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Christ on the Mount of Olives that ended the evening.

Among the other choral pieces that were performed at the two-hour-long concert were Bradford’s own lovely setting of the “Ave Maria;” Herbert Howells touching “Regina Coeli;” and Tomas Luis de Victoria’s haunting “Vere Languores.”

Among the purely instrumental selections, a string quartet consisting of violinists Lun Jiang and David Langr; violist Leslie Richards; and cellist John Eckstein played two pieces by Stephen Voorhees, composed for this concert in collaboration with the Salty Cricket Composers Collective: “Aeternam” and “And ever: Amen.” Also, Eckstein’s playing of the Prelude from J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 1 for Solo Cello and cathedral organist Douglas O’Neill’s account of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue, “St. Anne,” BWV 552, must be mentioned. They were certainly highlights of the evening.

This was a well chosen and thoughtful program and an absolutely magnificent evening of music.

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