Rich contrasts flow in PSO performance

| Friday, Oct. 11, 2013, 11:00 p.m.

From a mournful opening to an exuberant conclusion touching on the manic, Pittsburgh Symphony music director Manfred Honeck led a concert full of contrasts Friday night in Heinz Hall.

The Austrian conductor led his first performance of Samuel Barber's American classic, the Adagio for Strings, to begin the program. Honeck led a moderately paced performance, one which flowed when it should and had repose in contrast.

Honeck often achieves special nuances of color and accent when working with strings alone. In this case, however, he let inner voices contribute more than he usually allows.

Honeck then turned to music that is unfamiliar to the concert hall and rarely heard at the opera, from Leos Janacek's “Jenufa.” Honeck and Thomas Ille have stitched together a 24-minute suite of appealing music from the opera which, while episodic, gives an extended sampling of this composer's singularly compelling style. The performance itself had much charm, but the loudest passages blared.

The first half concluded with the triumphant debut of Russian pianist Yulianna Avdeeva playing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21. The pianist won first prize in the 2010 Frederyck Chopin Competition in Warsaw and showed fine Mozart style on Friday.

Avdeeva offered a welcome forthrightness in her interpretation. No mincing Mozart for her, yet no want of sensitivity either. The cleanliness and clarity of her right hand far surpassed the articulateness of the symphony, especially the strings, which had their share of fussy dynamics.

While inner voices were downplayed and smoothed over, the light presence of the trumpets in the balance was most welcome.

The concert concluded with a warmly romantic account of Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 8, which Honeck and the symphony performed many times in Pittsburgh and on a European tour in 2009.

Numerous extra microphones were above the orchestra because the Dvorak Eighth was recorded for commercial release. Honeck's performance had urgency, rich expressivity and full-bodied sonorites. The orchestra's excellence included many superb wind and horn solos.

In the finale, Honeck maximized the contrast of the main tempo with the faster one, which created a bipolar emotional landscape.

This concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $25.75 to $109.75. Details: 412-392-4900 or

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

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