Concert review: Tallis Scholars superb with PSO

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The Tallis Scholars turned Heinz Hall into the Sistine Chapel on Friday night.

During Allegri's "Miserere Mei, Deus," the 10-strong Renaissance vocal group conducted by Peter Phillips kept some singers on stage and, in a nod to the piece's original set-up at the famous chapel, others in the "gallery" (the hall's balcony). The tenor who sang monotone interludes took a spot in a box on the side.

The inventive arrangement was merely one highlight of the Tallis Scholars' exceptional performance, itself the finest part of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's concert. Their immaculate intonation and accuracy were a given; their full, pure, clear sound, big enough to fill the hall, distinguished their performance.

In "Miserere," the soprano soloist's impeccable control alone enlivened the music, aided by an easy, unstilted monotone from the solo tenor. One strange effect of the physical distance was their split sound when the two choirs joined together at the end of the piece.

Their performance also featured three Victoria motets and two Bruckner motets. The singers were performing the Bruckner works -- a prelude to what the symphony would later play -- for the first time, and they showed no lack of confidence. The sacred nature of the music, plus somewhat beefed-up vibrato, aided the effort. Although the sopranos were occasionally too loud in "Ave Maria," the singers demonstrated a finessed sound in "Locus iste."

In the Victoria motets, the group offered remarkable blend and unity, particularly at the end of the works, while allowing the colors of individual singers to shine through.

In the second half, the PSO, conducted by music director Manfred Honeck, played Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 ("Romantic"), which the orchestra is live-recording this weekend for an album set to be released this spring.

As a first take for the CD, this performance had strong moments but was not pristine. There were a number of surprising mistakes from the typically pitch-perfect horns and trumpets. Swallowed notes and ensemble issues were especially noticeable during soft sections -- perhaps a byproduct of Mr. Honeck's interpretation, which took liberties with tempo and dynamics.

His interesting approach had several high points, such as the smooth, dancelike trio in the third movement, a creeping coda in the finale, and big, gorgeous forte playing throughout. Still, his fast tempo at the beginning of the third movement seemed to take the brass by surprise, and soft dynamics put awkward spotlight on some solos.

The performance may not have always met the PSO standard, but they'll have two more shots at it this weekend.

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

Elizabeth Bloom: ebloom@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750. Twitter: @BloomPG. Blog: www.post-gazette.com/measuredwords.


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