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Concerto highlights classical series return

| Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, 11:52 p.m.

After a five-week hiatus for touring and pops concerts, the Pittsburgh Symphony resumed classical concerts under Manfred Honeck on Friday night at Heinz Hall.

The Thanksgiving weekend program combines a popular concerto with music of the Strauss family and other thematically related pieces.

Yefim Bronfman was the soloist in Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, known as the “Emperor.” The interpretation emphasized martial elements in the music, which gave rise to the unauthorized nickname.

Bronfman and Honeck presented an energetic interpretation, galloping across the pages of music like an army on the move. The orchestral sonority featured plenty of brass and drums while the strings had an outdoorsy dryness.

The slow movement explored more spiritual feelings only touched on in the first movement, but did so with a definite sense of forward motion. The pace ensured a fairly reserved degree of poetry and rhetorical emphasis.

The finale resumed the impetuous drive, rapid even through most of the little cadenza near the end.

Bronfman displayed immense virtuosity playing at the rapid tempi and real beauty in some passages, although this was hardly his cleanest performance with the symphony.

More significantly, Bronfman didn't sound as though he was at home with the pacing. Little inflections, contrasts, in his open solo were mainly left by the wayside in the pressure of the forward march.

The second half began rapidly, too, in the start of Johann Strauss Jr.'s Overture to “A Night in Venice.” But then waltz music produced a change in Honeck's approach to pacing. Drive yielded to flexibility and sentiment. The conductor couldn't hide the overture's episodic construction, but did make each section a joy.

Josef Strauss' Moulinet (Little Mill Pond) Polka also had a natural, unrushed pulse. Tempo properly picked up for the “Ice Skating” Polka by Josef's brother Johann Jr.

The most popular of Viennese waltzes, “On the beautiful, blue Danube,” received a winning performance that was by turns evocative, songful, lighthearted and reflective.

The program concluded with baritone Gregg Baker singing songs by Franz Lehar and Henry Mancini.

This concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $20 to $93. Details: 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org.

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media.

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