AUTUMN CLASSICS MUSIC FESTIVAL, Park City Community Church, Oct. 1; remaining concerts Oct. 2 and Oct. 7-9; www.pcmusicfestival.com

The Autumn Classics Music Festival opened Saturday in Park City in characteristic fashion – first rate performances of some of the greatest chamber works written. An offshoot of the Park City Music Festival, Autumn Classics is now in its eighth season and is a welcome addition to the area’s chamber music offerings.

The highlight of the opening night concert was unquestionably Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time.” Written in 1941 while the composer was a German prisoner of war, it is his first major work and one of the more significant chamber works of the 20th century.

Messiaen was a devout Catholic who was fascinated by the mysticism and symbolism of his faith, and this permeates his music – as does birdsong, which he felt was the voice of God. These two elements are an integral part of his works and are present in the “Quartet for the End of Time.”

The piece is in eight movements and the music is alternately otherworldly, bold, lyrical and disjointed – and intense. It is an incredible musical journey and it was played rapturously by the four musicians (John Novacek, piano; Nelson Lee, violin; Denise Djokic, cello; Russell Harlow, clarinet). Their account was musical and nuanced and captured the broad palette of expressions that give this work its spirituality and emotional power.

The concert opened with Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E flat, op. 12. Mendelssohn always writes wonderfully melodic works and this was brought out magnificently by the quartet of players (Airi Yoshioka and Lee, violin; Leslie Harlow, viola; Djokic, cello). They played it with a light hand which Mendelssohn’s music demands, and their interpretation was well conceived and executed. Their ensemble playing was solid and their musicality superb. This is the way Mendelssohn’s music deserves to be performed.

The third piece on the program was Joaquin Turina’s “Scene Andalouse” for Viola, String Quartet and Piano.

Turina didn’t write a lot of chamber music, but what he did write was some of the best to come out of the first half of the 20th century. His music is inflected with impressionism and infused with Spanish flavored melodies. It’s unique and utterly irresistible.

The “Scene Andalouse” is a lovely two-movement work flowing with lyrical beauty. Leslie Harlow, playing the solo viola, imbued her part with shimmering expressiveness. It was beautifully crafted and played and she most definitely showed that she is one of the finest violists in town. Her partners (the same players as in the Mendelssohn, along with Belknap on viola and Novacek on piano) were no less remarkable. They brought the rich, lush textures and the exquisite expressiveness of the music to the fore and allowed them to envelope the audience. The effect was enthralling.

Below are the dates and programs for the remaining concerts:

Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m., Park City Community Church – Copland, Sextet for String Quartet, Clarinet and Piano; Brahms, Piano Quartet in G Minor, Op. 25; Clarke, Duo for Viola and Clarinet. ($20 general, $15 seniors and students)

Oct. 7, 6:30 p.m. – Salon Concert in Midway, “Chamber Music on the River.” Call 435-649-5309 or email [email protected] for address and reservations.

Oct. 8, 7:30 p.m., Park City Community Church – Schoenfield, Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano; Turina, Piano Quartet, Op. 67; Brahms, String Quintet in A, Opus 111. (Click on LivingSocial.com Autumn Classics Music Festival to purchase $10 discounted tickets.)

Oct. 9, 3 p.m., Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah – Frühling, Trio in A Minor for Clarinet, Cello and Piano; Tchaikovsky, “Souvenir of Florence” String Sextet; Popper, “Tarantella” for Cello and Piano. (Click on LivingSocial.com Autumn Classics Music Festival to purchase $10 discounted tickets.)

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