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Honeck guides symphony's spiritual concert

| Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

REVIEW

Spirituality suffused Friday night's Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concert led by Manfred Honeck.

It opened two weeks of concerts at Heinz Hall, Downtown, featuring repertoire that will be performed on an eight-city, 12-concert European tour at the end of October and beginning of November.

Viennese composer Herbert Willi's “Abba Ma” (Echo of Peace) is a six-minute piece for chorus and orchestra that begins as though the composer had been listening to John Adams' music. It quickly turns dramatic, using the orchestra well, to lead to the choral prayer, followed by a purely orchestral conclusion.

Ludwig van Beethoven's Violin Concerto will not be played on tour, which is a shame because concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley gave a transporting performance.

His playing was beautifully articulate and sang with natural soulfulness. It was pure Beethoven, not someone's twisting of Beethoven's music to “make it their own.”

So sensitive and alert were the orchestra's contributions under Honeck's leadership that the performance felt like chamber music. But however soft the volume coming from the stage, the playing was always alive with shape and emphasis.

The slow movement sang with deep inner feelings expressed lightly, without heavy romantic weight. The finale was physically vigorous but also agile.

Bendix-Balgley composed his own cadenzas for each of the three movements. They were all fascinating explorations which found fresh changes of harmony, voicing and thematic sequence.

The concert culminated in a repeat performance of Honeck's bold performing version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Requiem, which he introduced to Heinz Hall in December 2009. Called “Mozart's Death in Words and Music,” it also will be performed at the Musikverein in Vienna, Austria, on Nov. 1.

Honeck precedes the Requiem with Gregorian Chant, a letter about death from the composer to his father, his Masonic Funeral Music and an exquisite soprano solo from one of his settings of Vespers.

The effect on the listener is that when the Requiem itself begins, with weary tread and doleful solo bassoon, it is answering feelings that have already filled the heart.

F. Murray Abraham was outstanding as the speaker. He read Mozart's letter to his father about death as the ultimate purpose of life, the “true, best friend of man,” with the tone of a dutiful son trying to reassure his dying father.

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

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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