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Review: Symphony triumphs during night of Wagner, verdi

| Friday, March 1, 2013, 11:45 p.m.

Opera at the symphony has become more and more infrequent with the passing years, which made Friday night's tribute to Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi particularly welcome.

Christopher Hahn, Pittsburgh Opera's general director, was the host for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's concert at Heinz Hall conducted by music director Manfred Honeck and provided commentary that was witty and informative.

The first half of the concert was devoted to Wagner, starting with the stirring Prelude to Act III of “Lohengrin.” Music director Manfred Honeck led an exhilarating performance.

Later in the first half, the orchestra was outstanding in Siegfried's Funeral March from “Die Gotterdammerung.” Honeck paced the opening of this famous orchestral excerpt quite slowly, with timpanist Edward Stephan laying the music out with perfect clarity and point. Honeck called on him to take a well-deserved slow bow at the end of the piece. The brasses were tremendous again, with layers of horn sound, beautifully integrated low brass sonorities.

Soprano Simona Saturova sang Elsa's Dream from “Lohengrin” with artistry in nuance of line and the course of emotions.

The Mendelssohn Choir sang Elsa's Procession with deeply voiced dignity, while by contrast the Chorus of Norwegian Sailors from “Der fliegende Hollander” was very extroverted.

Baritone Gregg Baker, a big man with a big voice, gave a commanding performance of the Song to the Evening Star from “Tannhauser” with gorgeous legato yet also ample emphasis.

The Wagnerian repertoire concluded with the Entrance of the Guests, also from “Tannhauser,” in which the sweeping sounds of chorus and orchestra on stage were complemented by fabulous trumpet fanfares played from the box closest to the stage on the right side.

Four selections from “La Traviata” launched the Verdi repertoire. Honeck led a rather slow version of the Prelude to Act I. The tempo also felt slow for the introduction to “Sempre Libre,” but the tempo for the aria felt right for Saturova's articulation.

By contrast the Chorus of the Ghypsies and Matadors was at a wonderfully quick tempo which serves the differing characters of the musical ideas.

Baker concluded the “Traviata” numbers with a grand performance of “Di Provenza il mar.”

After two more arias, big choruses from “Aida” and “Il Trovatore,” the latter a sing-along in English, concluded the concert.

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. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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