Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pittsburgh in Berlin; The PSO plays in the Digital Concert Hall

Manfred Honeck and Anne-Sophie Mutter
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra began its European Festivals Tour this weekend, and after performing in the Grafenegg Festival on Thursday and Friday they played the opening concert of the Musikfest Berlin 2013 earlier today, in an event transmitted free on the Digital Concert Hall.

PSO Music Director and Conductor Manfred Honeck led the orchestra in a colorful and engaging program that began with strings only. The infrequently heard "Suite for String Orchestra" by Léoš Janáček opened with a "Moderato" that balanced dramatic and delicate ideas with music that brightened and darkened with surprising rapidity. It was a challenging quality to capture at the  opening of a concert, and the connecting phrases did not always click into place.

But with the muted trio for violins and violas that comprises the second movement the orchestra found its voice. They played the third movement "Andante con moto" like a Pennsylvania Barn Dance, and took the fourth movement presto at breathtaking speed.

Honeck conducted the fifth movement adagio without baton and with the help of lovely solo cello playing, this troubled hymn became the expressive centerpiece for the work.

Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter joined the orchestra as soloist in "Chain II. Dialogue for violin and orchestra" by Witold Lutosławski. This work was written for her in the 1980s, and she brings out dimensions of it that younger players often miss. The work depends upon making "ad libitum" passages sound improvisational--not like notated music, then contrasting this sound with the precision and intensity of clockwork. Mutter brought out the chaotic potential of the ad libitum music, and the lyrical side of the notated music. In the third movement there was a wonderful moment after the drums, and just before the piano entered, where the orchestral strings played a fabulous dialog with her. This kind of careful listening is all too often missing from this style of music.

After intermission the orchestra played Ein Heldenleben. Concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley played the famous violin solo with wit and precision, and the horn solo and dialog with the concertmaster that closed the work was unusually tender and dolce.

There were two encores. The first was Max Reger's transcription of "Litanei auf das Fest Aller Seelen 'Am Tage Aller Seelen,'" D343 by Schubert, and this was followed by the last waltz from the Rosenkavalier suite.

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