Previn premiere encompassing

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Most composers would rather sit through a performance of their works sung by the Alvin and the Chipmunks than write a triple concerto, let alone one for horn, trumpet and tuba.

For one, no one has come close to the popularity, grandeur and scope of Beethoven's, so even calling a work by that name is asking for trouble. Then, you are dealing with linking together three instruments that have none of the instrumental rapport of the violin, cello and piano of that standard-bearing work.

Not only did Andre Previn accept that challenge when commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, but also he transformed the genre (if we can call it that).

Friday night, Heinz Hall patrons gave rousing applause to Mr. Previn, who was music director of the PSO from 1976-84. Sitting on a chair on the podium, the nearly 84-year-old faced horn player William Caballero, tuba player Craig Knox and trumpeter George Vosburgh, all principals and virtuosos. The premiere that followed was innovative and tantalizing.

It was essentially a concerto for 20 instruments, but not as a concerto for orchestra or even the ancient concerto grosso.

Mr. Previn called on principals and sections throughout the orchestra for a panoply of soloistic passages and combinations: flute with horn, tuba with oboe, a trombone choir or the low strings by themselves. First desk string playing was matched by the bassoon family on its own. And concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley even had a solo.

In fact, the triplets hardly played with each other at all throughout the three-movement work. And when they did solo, with magnificent tone and remarkable control, Mr. Previn never gave them the full spotlight you began to yearn for. The typical tension of a concerto was brilliantly turned on its head.

His interpretation of Haydn's Symphony No. 102 did so for the wrong reason, a listless rendering of a usually energetic work. A bright spot was the exquisite playing by flutist Lorna McGhee, the new principal who continues to impress. She took an all things considered approach, phrasing that didn't stop at a silvery tone but seemed to craft each note.

But Mr. Previn was at his best in a work that asks for the sort of delicacy and color that he is adept at: Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony. Here he simply nudged the PSO in one direction or another with the ease he is known for, with special attention given to its vivid themes and harmony.

Program repeats tonight at 8 and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.


Andrew Druckenbrod: adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com ; 412-263-1750. Blog: www.post-gazette.com/classicalmusings . Twitter: @druckenbrod.


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