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Scotland inspires symphonic treat

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Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 10:49 p.m.

Music lovers have a special treat this weekend with Nikolaj Znaider on the podium and Noah Bendix-Balgley as violin soloist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Natural musicality shone in three German romantic classics, achieving a rightness that is rare.

The first half of the concert on Friday night in Heinz Hall was devoted to music inspired by Scotland, both its natural beauty and its lore.

It was apparent from the first pages of Felix Mendelssohn's “The Hebrides Overture” that Znaider was drawing a particularly beautiful sound from the orchestra. He was generous with the middle voices, which makes sense not only in the play of ideas but for richness of sonority.

Znaider led a performance that was astutely drawn for the music's pictorial element and showed real and tasteful appreciation of the beautiful contrasting theme. Some passages were smoother in articulation than expected, but the performance did not lack for drama.

Bendix-Balgley made the most of Max Bruch's “Scottish Fantasy” in showing off his recently acquired 1732 Carlo Bergonzi violin, including the instrument's timbral dimensions.

It was a performance entirely in tune with what we have come to expect from the young concertmaster, above all a singing style of communicative sincerity and spontaneity. His exemplary technique included hitting his high notes without fudging with vibrato — obviously preferable and surprisingly rare.

Znaider was mostly as sympathetic a conductor as one would expect from a musician who played the solo part with the Pittsburgh Symphony in March 2005. However, there were a few lyrical places where the conductor's baton reached the next beat before the soloist.

Robert Schumann's Symphony No. 4 provided a satisfying conclusion built on the virtues that made performances in the first half so rewarding. It was actually paced a bit more urgently than the Mendelssohn but found a good range for the two sides of Schumann's personality. Orchestral balances were wonderful to hear: plenty of brass, for example, but never a moment when any brass instrument was too loud.

Oboist Cynthia deAlmeida and cellist Anne Martindale Williams created a wonderfully fluid color in introducing the main theme of the slower movement. Associate concertmaster Mark Huggins played the lengthy violin solos superbly.

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