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PSO makes bold opening

| Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, 11:27 p.m.

Boldness marked the opening of the Pittsburgh Symphony's subscription series on Friday night at Heinz Hall, when Manfred Honeck conducted three well-contrasted pieces. Carl Orff's “Carmina Burana” provided the blockbuster finale.

The concert opened with the “Fidelio” Overture,” the shortest and last of four overtures composed for his only opera. After the slow introduction, Honeck led an especially urgent and often hard-edged performance with some of the spirit of the Leonore Overtures Nos. 2 and 3. The ending was especially exciting, but there were a surprising number of small glitches throughout.

The world premiere of David Stock's Symphony No. 6 kicked off the symphony's focus on Pittsburgh composers this season. Stock, 74, is a prolific composer and is particularly well known to older music lovers for his decades of work as founding music director of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble.

Stock's three-movement, 24-minute symphony is unmistakably American, and in the final movement Jewish.

The music begins with high energy and bold gestures, with an air of post-minimalism, but the first movement is the least distinguished of the three. The second movement is marked “Warmly” and begins that way with a play of motifs, but is propelled by strongly contrasted material. The finale, “Slow, Mysterious,” is not only filled with music from Jewish liturgy but has an even stronger sense of progression than its predecessor and reaches a moving conclusion.

Orff's ultra-popular “Carmina Burana” is based on profane song texts compiled by 13th century monks in Germany. From the wheel of fortune to songs about love and drinking, Orff's musical imagination never falters.

The music is mostly very rhythmic, sometimes boisterous, at other times hypnotic. The symphony percussion section was expanded by three of the most distinguished guests possible.

The vocal soloists could hardly have been more dramatic, especially baritone Hugh Russell, whose “drunken” antics played well with the audience. Andrey Nemzer made his gorgeous countertenor voice aptly grotesque singing as the roast swan, while soprano Lisette Oraposa was more impressive in the second of her songs.

The Mendelssohn Choir sang with expected but never to be underestimated enthusiasm and considerable power.

This concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $30.75 to $124.75. 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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