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Contrasts rule as Honeck leads dynamic show

| Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, 11:06 p.m.

Music is built on contrasts but rarely has a concert program been so contrasted as the one offered at Heinz Hall Friday night.

It featured unaccompanied singers performing religious music in the first half. Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony took to the stage only in the second half, and to play the often massive sonorities of Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 4.

The musical connection between the two halves of the concert went beyond the inclusion of two motets by Bruckner in the program performed by the Tallis Scholars, which was making its Heinz Hall debut.

Honeck introduced the Tallis Scholars, mentioning the concert is part of the symphony's “Music for the Spirit” series and that the devotion and purity of the music they would perform is a perfect preparation for appreciating Anton Bruckner's music after intermission.

The English chamber choir, which is on its 40th anniversary tour, is no stranger to Pittsburgh, having been presented several times by the Renaissance and Baroque Society.

The Tallis Scholars began with three pieces by Tomas Luis de Victoria, singing with the purity and deft emphasis for which they are famous.

The order of the two Bruckner motets was switched from the printed program, starting with “Locust est” and continuing with “Ave Maria.” It was wonderful to hear Bruckner's harmony so clearly and with such purpose.

Tallis Scholars founder and conductor Peter Philips concluded with a deeply affecting performance of Greggorio Allegri's “Miserere” in which the choir was divided with half the singers on stage and others (including a soaring soprano) answering from the balcony.

Weekend performances of Bruckner's Fourth are being recorded in concert for commercial release.

Friday night's performance carried Honeck's interpretive ideas even further than what he had done with this piece at Heinz Hall five years ago. He precisely characterized the spirit of the music as it unfolds with a perception few conductors achieve, using considerable tempo flexibility.

The performance also benefitted from a full week of rehearsals, and had far more refinement in sonority and dynamics than many Friday night performances. The strings had exceptional depth and warmth, while the brass was remarkably well balanced.

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