My definition of great music is simple. In the moments that a work rushes by my ears, it must feel like the only composition that matters. For me, there is no ranking of works or songs. When I am listening to music that engages my mind and spirit, all other music becomes temporarily irrelevant.
That's admittedly a heady way to begin a review, but it captures two sides of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's concert Friday night at Heinz Hall. It opened with a work I wanted to move me but did not, Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 2. It finished with a symphony that would lift me up in the worst of days, Dvorak's Symphony No. 7. Just to be sure, conductor Gianandrea Noseda offered up a most stunning and sensitive reading of the latter.
The Italian cellist Enrico Dindo was charged with making his debut with this most odd of concertos. Written after the decades of fear and oppression in Stalin's Russia, Shostakovich's work of 1966 opens with what can best be described as a high-pitched soliloquy by the cellist.
Even in the realm of highly interpretive music, there is no way to play this wrong. It is sorrowful, painful music that Mr. Dindo dangled precariously over the dark rumblings of the basses. But to my ear, Shostakovich misjudges how much he can challenge this lament with interjections by the orchestra and percussion (the potent bass drum shots notwithstanding).
Mr. Noseda appeared to relish in the uneasy element of the concerto, bringing out the unexpected bassoon cries (well played, as were the horn outbursts) in the second movement and the carnivalesque sections later. The finale's looping of three themes, one a tonal conclusion complete with a cello trill, suited Mr. Dindo best. But it is just not a work that showcases the lyrical and imaginative abilities of a cellist, and the hope here is that Mr. Dindo gets another appearance.
There is no longer any doubt in my mind that the PSO must do everything it can to continue to secure Mr. Noseda's (No-SAY-da) services as long as it can. The PSO has given him the most clumsy title, "Victor DeSabata guest conductor chair." But "principal guest conductor" would fit him much better. I don't know how long Leonard Slatkin will have that post, but Mr. Noseda is the perfect complement to music director Manfred Honeck. Whereas Mr. Honeck chisels out masterful interpretations already formed in his mind, Mr. Noesda forms the music like clay on a wheel.
Mr. Noseda gave more suggestions than cues throughout the performance of Dvorak's Seventh, from the flowing themes of the opening movements to intensification of the last two. He picked his places, however, in particular his crafting of the second themes of the outer movements. This hands-on/hands-off approach enhanced both the wistful and driving quality of the, yes, only music that mattered at that moment.
Program repeats at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.