Friday, April 24, 2015

Three in Two

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, under Music Director Manfred Honeck presented an interesting program that included two Pittsburgh premieres (one of which was also a world premiere) and a familiar Tchaikovsky symphony. The concert was being recorded as part of the Reference Recording's Fresh series.  There were many microphones visible over the orchestra.

Before the performance, a short video featuring PSO members talking humorously about the evening's works. It was clever and enjoyably informal.

The concert began with a suite from Dvorak's opera "Rusalka," as arranged by Honeck, and it was a world premiere.  The maestro has a certain affinity for Dvorak's music, maybe owing to his familiarity with the Czech culture and heritage.  (He is Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic after all.) This was a nice set of excepts form the not-so-frequently heard opera that are tuneful, upbeat, and colorful. Honeck's arrangement kept all of that and the pieces seemed to flow together quite well.  Fortunately, there were none of those awful Broadway-like transitions from section to section, so it worked as a whole.  Had AMC not know the source, he would have thought that this was a newly discovered Dvorak tone poem.  The PSO played beautifully.  AMC's only reservation was that the piece was a big long for an opener to a concert, but it  is understandable given the exigencies of recording, that is, you may need to change the parameters of the concert a bit to fit the requirements of a CD.

The second work of the night was Benjamin Britten's violin concerto with Rainer Honeck as soloist.  Rainer is Manfred's younger brother.  It should be noted that when Rainer and Noah Bendix-Balgley were on stage, there were concert masters of three of the world's greatest orchestra''s (Rainer from the Vienna Phil and  Bendix-Balgley from Pittsburgh and the Berlin Phil).The younger Honeck played with warmth and technical skill.  The Concerto demands great technical precision and that it received. AMC must admit a certain dislike for Britten'w music.  Many phrases are beautiful, but each to stand alone from the one the preceded it and the one that succeeded it.  AMC looked for structure but didn't discern it.  Nevertheless, the Pittsburgh audience went wild, calling back both Honeck brothers for repeated curtain calls, each with a standing ovation.  This was not just a polite SO- it was the real deal.

The final work on the program was Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 (The Pathetique).  This was the third time this season that AMC has head this work, but the first two did nothing to prepare me for Honeck's version.  He has a reputation for shedding new light on familiar works with his own unique interpretations.  This performance feel in line with that.  The second beautiful them in the first movement arose so quietly from the muted violins that it seemed to grow from nowhere, yet it blossomed into a wonderfully golden performance by the PSO violins. The second movement waltz was taken a bit fast, which in no way detracted from its lightness and grace.  Honeck understands that often Tchaikovsky put in accent notes, frequently played by the horns. Too often conductors don't seem to understand that these are only accents, and should be treated as such.  They should not dominate, and thus become distractions.  The third movement march highlighted the gorgeous sound of the Pittsburgh brass and the strong playing of the percussion section.  But it was in the last movement that Honeck really showed that he understood what the composer was getting at.  Yes, it is a deeply despairing piece- there are only occasional glimpses of  hope, at least in AMC's opinion.  But what Honeck seemed to bring out was the anger and rage under the despair and unhappiness.  In fact, anger is a key component of depression and despair and this performance made the listener look into that darkness.  Now this may not be everybody's cup-o-musical-tea, but it was raw and powerful.  Some will say the brass was too dominant but that's part of the power of Honeck's interpretation.  AMC had chills from parts of the performance and it was thrilling!

This was probably the best AMC has ever hear this symphony played and interpreted.  Well done- well done.

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