Pittsburgh Symphony tackles Vivaldi, Mozart and Haydn

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Some of the oldest music that makes its way into orchestra concerts can often yield the most surprising results. A program featuring music by Vivaldi, Mozart and Haydn may not seem earth-shattering, and it’s not. Still, given the opportunities provided by historically informed performance and mistaken notions about what this music can sound like, such concerts yield opportunities for exploration sometimes lacking in music from the Romantic period onward. 

So it was with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s concert Friday night at Heinz Hall, conducted by early music expert Nicholas McGegan. A rousing rendition of Haydn’s Symphony No. 103 (“Drumroll”) concluded the concert and illuminated the ways that pre-19th century music can meet a modern sensibility.

Mr. McGegan’s good humor was endearing and lent itself to a vivacious performance. It got its own flavor througha number of devices, such the decision to begin the opening movement’s timpani roll (which gave the symphony its nickname) with a rhythmic strokes and a dynamic contrast in the horns’ introduction to the final movement. Those effects aside, most important was Mr. McGegan’s attention to clean, individual lines, particularly in the winds and brass, that together lent the performance added intensity. The second movement’s fast speed, however, took away from the innocent simplicity of the violin solo, played by concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley. 

Violinist Ye-Eun Choi, a protege of Anne-Sophie Mutter, made her PSO debut on Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” Ms. Choi showcased a lush, beautiful sound and impressive technical facility. Her interpretation and the accompaniment (which included Mr. McGegan on harpsichord) was not particularly onomatopoeic, save for a few exceptions in the latter three concertos. She put on personal touches with a few ornaments, but did not always deliver varied colors. Her “Spring,” for example, featured gorgeous legato playing but could have used a few gear-shifts. Still, she made an admirable debut and is someone to watch. 

Sandwiched between Vivaldi and Haydn was an excerpt of ballet music from Mozart’s “Idomeneo, Re di Creta” that featured bold brass, sultry oboes and a stately larghetto section. 

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

Elizabeth Bloom: ebloom@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750. 

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