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Pianist counters boisterous open at Pittsburgh Symphony holiday concert

Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, 11:12 p.m.

Despite a mishap before the music began, the annual Thankgiving weekend program of Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony generally met, and in some ways exceeded, the standard they have set for this tradition.

The concert Friday night at Heinz Hall began with Franz von Suppe's “Poet and Peasant Overture,” an exuberant and brilliantly scored curtain raiser. The performance features a beautiful opening from the brass section, a lovely cello played by Anne Martindale Williams, and plenty of energy. But in some passages Honeck went too far with pacing that was and orchestral sounds that were coarse and brutal.

Austrian pianist Till Fellner then made an impressive debut playing Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4. It is the least showy of Beethoven's piano concerti and therefore made a welcome contrast with the boisterousness of the opening piece.

The clarity and cleanliness of Fellner's pianist was extremely impressive in its own way and served his Apollonian expressive stance. He took his cue from the second movment, in which the orchestra's blunt forcefulness is met and turned by the piano's calm inner voice.

Honeck characterized the orchestral parts' frequently changing moods and personalities with assurance, and without overstatement.

After intermission Honeck and the orchestra turned to music by the Strauss family, beginning with Johann Jr.'s “Waldmeister” Overture. It received one of Honeck's most successful interpretations in this genre, just as the “Roses from the South” Waltzes were unusually well done. Both benefited from idiomatic inflection, a willingnesss to give melodic material the time it needs to blossom and enthusiastic delivery of the music by the orchestra.

The only music not by a Strauss on the second half — apart from a string counterpoint added by Brahms to the return of the waltz played by flutes in “Waldmeister” — was “Carmen Fantasie Brilliante” to music by Georges Bizet. It was played with striking personality and technical brilliance by principal flute Lorna McGhee.

Prior to the concert there was a technical failure in a pre-recorded video introduction to the concert. But then it always seems goofy to see a video of someone who will be on stage in a moment, as the conductor will be, or is already on stage. as musicians who were interviewed.

This concert will be repeated at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at 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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