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Conductor Krzysztof Urbanski shines in Heinz Hall debut

| Friday, Jan. 30, 2015, 11:03 p.m.

More conductors than you might expect surf on the excellence of the orchestras before which they stand. Far rarer are those who provide the leadership that helps orchestras be their best, to reach beyond their norm.

Young Krzysztof Urbanski, 32, and in his fourth season as music director of the Indianapolis Symphony, showed his rare talents Friday night in his Heinz Hall debut.

He led a thoroughly persuasive performance of Sergei Prokofiev's rarely heard Russian Overture, written in 1936 and receiving its first Pittsburgh Symphony performance. It was a beautifully defined and secure account. Urbanski has a gift for bold orchestral sonorities and is ready to adapt on the spot when the music takes a momentary lyrical or fanciful turn.

The symphony's concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley was the soloist in Aram Khachaturian's 1940 Violin Concerto. Although too long for what it has to say, the concerto is filled with the attractive spirit of folk song and dance.

Bendix-Balgley responded with equal alacrity to the various personalities within the music. His virtuosity, particularly his bowing, is irresistible, but the heart that lifts his lyricism is treasurable.

Urbanski brought many strengths to his accompaniment, including considerate dynamics, but closer attention to the soloist would have been helpful.

Bendix-Balgley's encore was the third movement of Johann Sebastian Bach's Sonata No. 1 for unaccompanied violin. He performed it with disarming simplicity and directness.

The concert closed with a genuinely exciting performance of Modest Mussorgsky's “Pictures at an Exhibition,” originally for piano solo. Urbanski led a performance of Maurice Ravel's orchestration, which is a showpiece for orchestra.

There were many outstanding solos by members of the orchestra, starting with principal trumpet George Vosburgh and certainly including Peter Sullivan's euphonium solo in “Bydlo.”

But it was the coherence and confidence of the full orchestra that made the performance more than the sum of its parts. Urbanski's leadership makes this concert program not to be missed.

This concert will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $25.75 to $105.75. Details: 412-392-4900 or 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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