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Soprano soloist adds exquisite touch to PSO's Mozart Festival

| Friday, May 2, 2014, 11:31 p.m.

A vocal sampler provided a successful conclusion to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's brief Mozart Festival on Friday at Heinz Hall, a concert which will be repeated on Sunday.

Two excellent vocal soloists and the Mendelssohn Choir joined music director Manfred Honeck and the orchestra for brief and sometimes abbreviated excerpts from eight religious and operatic works.

In addition, the show featured a narrator who dressed and cross-dressed as characters in Mozart's life. Don Marinelli, a retired Carnegie Mellon University professor, was quite charming in his Italian- and German-inflected English. His words were mostly from historic figures such as Franz Joseph Haydn, Antonio Salieri, and Mozart's librettists Leorenzo da Ponte and Emanuel Schickanedere.

The concert opened with two excerpts from the Mass in C minor, the “Kyrie” and the “Laudamus Te,” in which Honeck served the chorus and soprano soloist Sunhae Im with extremely soft orchestral dynamics — often no more than wisps of sound — contrasted with moderately loud fortes.

Im was a stellar performer, with remarkable articulation, keenly focused rhythm. She conveyed joy and exultation within a purely Mozartean scale. She alone would be worth the price of admission.

The “Alleluja” from the early work “Exsultate jubilate” was taken at a zippy tempo, which did not faze Im in the least.

The short first half concluded with “Ave, verum corpus” and three movements from the “Reqiuem.” The Mendelssohn Choir sang extremely softly and beautifully, most of the time. In louder passages the sound of the women tended to spread and become shrill, but the men were well focused.

Honeck conducted the overtures to “Don Giovanni,” “The Marriage of Figaro” and “The Magic Flute” with breakneck tempi but a light touch in faster passages. There were mannerisms, including phrases ending that weakened as though the music had fallen off a cliff.

Baritone Lucas Meachem relied a little too heavily on falsetto, but had a strong comic flair in other ways.

Im was exquisite in “Porgi amor,” the lament of the countess in “Figaro.”

The concert's biggest drawback was that only two singers were used, which prevented performing the music of which Mozart was most proud — such as in “Figaro” the finale of Act II and the Recognition Scene in Act III.

This concert will be repeated at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $25.75 to $105.75. Details: 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.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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