Concert review: PSO, Honeck harks back to European sound
December 5, 2015 12:00 AM
Russian pianist Yulianna Avdeeva joined the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and music director Manfred Honeck in a program of works by Schubert, Mozart and Beethoven.
By Elizabeth Bloom / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
American orchestras are indebted to the music traditions established in Europe centuries ago, but the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in particular takes pride in its European sound. The ensemble is on the more expressive end of the American orchestral spectrum, which, at least stereotypically, tends to prioritize precision over feeling. Music director Manfred Honeck often chips into that effort by deriving inspiration from the traditions he grew up with in Austria.
With Friday’s program of Schubert, Mozart and Beethoven, the PSO and Mr. Honeck offered a concert that capitalized on that Austro-German leaning, this time with an added dose of intimacy. Mozart’s “Coronation” Mass, which was the chronological and spiritual heart of the concert, seemed to shrink Heinz Hall even before the piece began, as the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh wrapped itself around the orchestra instead of standing on risers.
If not quite a historically informed performance, several facets seem to nod to the trans-Atlantic lineage: The excellent quartet of soloists (soprano Christina Landshamer, mezzo-soprano Corrie Stallings, tenor Paul Appleby and baritone Paul Armin Edelmann) had lighter voices, and the orchestra featured baroque-style timpani and rotary trumpets. Thus assembled, Mr. Honeck managed these elements like a ship’s captain, inviting a tight relationship between the soloists, choir and orchestra and a crunchy, vibrant energy from the musicians. Ms. Landshamer offered a deeply felt solo in the Agnus Dei.
The compactness symbolized by the chorus’ physical setup in the Mozart seemed to blow wide open with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Emperor”), featuring Russian pianist Yulianna Avdeeva. Ms. Avdeeva made her PSO debut a couple of seasons ago, but her bold performance this time was more impressive.
Most enticing was her festive take on the main theme of the rondo, which had the boisterous quality of a Strauss waltz. If that final movement had firecrackers, it also offered some of her most sensitive musical decisions. She showcased a bell-like touch in the pensive middle movement and the cadenza in the Allegro, although that opening movement lacked some of the shadings she demonstrated in the finale.
The program opened with Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 (“Unfinished”), which swayed between warmth and haunting quietude.
Noah Bendix-Balgley, who recently left the PSO’s concertmaster post for the Berlin Philharmonic, was the evening’s guest concertmaster and was welcomed back with rousing applause.
Program repeats 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The symphony will perform Handel’s “Messiah” at 8 tonight.
Elizabeth Bloom: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1750.
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