You could make the case that the three B's of classical music should add another, with Bach, Beethoven and Brahms augmented by Bartok. After all, it's as much a case of alliteration as greatness. A bracing performance of his masterwork Concerto for Orchestra Friday night at Heinz Hall also resounded with the metaphorical sound of the gavel affirming that judgment.
Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos' baton had that same weight, urging the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra through the second half of the concert.
While theorists are keen to point out the palindrome-like structure of the Concerto for Orchestra, it often sounds more like a confederacy of themes, with one following another like a jump-cut in film. It's of utmost importance that a conductor manage those sudden shifts, and Mr. Fruhbeck did just that. The ominous opening in the low string register building to the near shrieking violins, and the pungent harmonies in the brass leading to twisting half-melodies in the woodwinds -- all connected effortlessly.
Written late in the Hungarian composer's life and during the darkness of World War II, the Concerto grapples with grim reality. But for the present-day listener, the second and fourth movements have a life of their own. The former, subtitled "The Game of Pairs," found bassoonists Nancy Goeres and Phillip Pandolfi winding their way through this odd music (surely John Williams was listening), followed by trombonists Peter Sullivan and James Nova, trumpeters Charles Lirette and Neal Berntsen. But my favorite moment broke that pattern with bassoonist James Rodgers joining in for a recapitulation.
The delicate nature of that movement received the same gentle touch by Mr. Fruhbeck as he applied to the fourth, which includes the haunting beauty of a theme representing lost innocence of dying folk culture. The end was furious and punctuated.
Unfortunately another "B" came to mind with the debut of pianist Shai Wosner: banal. His soloing in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 15 reminded me just how counter-intuitive classical music can be: Hitting the right notes at the right time is often not the sign of artistry. Mr. Wosner mustered little interpretation. He plunked away rather than exploring the subtle electricity that arcs through Mozart's phrases.
Perhaps my criticism is due in part to a wonderfully nuanced performance of Mozart's Serenade No. 6 for Two Small Orchestras, "Serenata notturna," that opened the concert. This is about as close to chamber music as you get in Heinz Hall, and that change of pace is welcome. Concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley is adept at chamber music, and he guided the other soloists Jennifer Ross, Randolph Kelly and Jeffrey Turner (violin, viola and bass, respectively), in a smooth and scintillating response to the larger string orchestra.
Program repeats at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.