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Review: PSO sparkles under conductor Gianandrea Noseda

| Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, 11:04 p.m.
Lisa Marie Mazzucco
Violinist Joshua Bell

From a contemporary virtuoso at the height of his powers to a neglected masterpiece by a composer at the peak of his achievements, Friday night's Pittsburgh Symphony concert conducted by Gianandrea Noseda was a compelling experience.

The star power of violinist Joshua Bell provided an exciting first half at Heinz Hall. Bell, who is a multi-Grammy winner, played Edouard Lalo's “Symphonie espagnole,” a five-movement charmer written for 19th century Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarsate. The Pittsburgh Symphony's first performance in 1907 featured famed violinist Fritz Kreisler.

The soloist and orchestra gave a powerful performance of the piece, with emphatic loud orchestral passages.

Bell's personality and vibrant technique were never in danger of being overshadowed. He drew beautiful tone from his Stradivarius violin once owned by Bronislaw Hubermann. From perfect octaves to left hand pizzicati (plucked notes), Bell gave a memorable demonstration of great violin playng.

His approach to the sometimes omitted third movement, the Intermezzo, was beautifully defined with scrupulously even bowing to set out the theme.

All that was missing from the Lalo was a lighter touch and the charm that's possible when there is less pressure.

After intermission Noseda conducted Franz Liszt's “A Faust Symphony,” inspired by Friedrich Goethe's extremely lengthy play. Liszt's piece is in three movements, each a character portrait of Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles.

Liszt's Faust Symphony was extremely influential, anticipating compositional characteristics most obviously of Richard Wagner, Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg.

Noseda conducted the original version of the piece, a purely instrumental version written before Liszt added a short section at the end of the last movement for tenor, chorus, organ which quotes from the play.

The advantage of Liszt's original treatment of Goethe's “Faust” is that unlike Hector Berlioz's “The Damnation of Faust,” Robert Schumann's “Scenes from Goethe's ‘Faust' ” and Charles Gounod's opera “Faust,” Liszt makes his points through music unlimited by words. He took advantage of the freedom to set the moods of Faust's never satisfied character, explore the allure of feminine lyricism and present sharply maligning wit.

Noseda led a deeply insightful interpretation which was played with complete devotion by the orchestra.

The Pittsburgh Symphony last played “A Faust Symphony” in May 1975.

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 $105.75. Details: 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org.

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