REVIEW – Utah Chamber Artists soar in supplication and praise

U. singers also shine in performance of Stravinsky’s magnificent statement of faith.

By Catherine Reese Newton| The Salt Lake Tribune

Published Feb 27 2012 10:33 pm

Performances of Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” don’t come along every day, perhaps because of the work’s unusual instrumentation — which includes two pianos, but no clarinets, violins or violas. Kudos to Barlow Bradford and Utah Chamber Artists for bringing this magnificent statement of faith to a Salt Lake City audience.

Even a choir the caliber of Utah Chamber Artists would have trouble holding its own against the formidable brass contingent in Stravinsky’s score, so Bradford augmented his 40-voice chamber choir with the 27-voice University of Utah Singers.

The collegiate ensemble, which Bradford also has directed the past two years, blended beautifully with its seasoned counterpart, and the voices soared in supplication and praise. Bradford kept a careful rein on tempos, whether in the pulse-quickening simmer of the first movement or the stately tread of the last.

The orchestra also rose to the challenge; oboist Robert Stephenson’s solos were especially expressive. Then there was the extra muscle provided by pianists Jason Hardink and Vedrana Subotic.

The program’s first half featured the Utah Chamber Artists singers on their own, and with occasional organ accompaniment by the ever-excellent Douglas O’Neill, in a variety of psalm settings by Purcell, Rutter, Rachmaninoff, Chesnokov, Thomas Matthews and Howard Hanson. The overall mood was somber and contemplative, with the UCA vocalists showcasing the transparency, balance and clarity for which they are known. O’Neill’s exuberant performance of the Toccata from Charles-Marie Widor’s Fifth “Organ Symphony” — if you know only half a dozen pieces of organ music, this is one of them — provided just the right splash of color.

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