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Violinist gives tour de force in performance of Beethoven concerto

| Friday, June 5, 2015, 11:00 p.m.

Attendance was unusually strong Friday night when the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra began the final weekend of this season's Beethovenfest.

German violinist Christian Tetzlaff gave a striking, original and persuasive interpretation of Beethoven's Violin Concerto to open the concert. Closely partnered by Musical Director Manfred Honeck and the orchestra, the soloist produced a range of expression much wider than is usually heard.

In addition to a martial fierceness in the orchestra and the expected noble lyricism, this performance touched many contrasting feelings. Tetzlaff's playing was at times endearingly light with unforced nuances of articulation, including playfulness and wit, as well as burning intensity.

The cadenza the soloist played near the end of the first movement, with timpani, was arranged from the one Beethoven wrote when he revised the piece as a piano concerto.

After intermission, Honeck had another go at Beethoven's Ninth. As he did at previous performances in 2010 and 2013, the conductor on Friday night adhered as closely as he could to Beethoven's fast metronome markings — for good and ill.

The first movement was tight and compact and felt like an opening movement, not a culmination. The intensity of its drama and lyricism were within limits.

Beethoven's metronome marking works very well for the Scherzo, and the Trio was fast.

The verbal tempo marking for the slow movement, Adagio molto e cantabile (very slow and singing), is almost contradicted by Beethoven's metronome marking. The start of the movement did sing beautifully, but later variations didn't avoid feeling glib.

Honeck's handling of the low-strings recitative at the start of the finale was fresher and more persuasive than it's been in the past, and baritone soloist Liang Li produced an appealingly round sound, free of bluster.

Tenor soloist Nicholas Phan coped as well as could be expect at Honeck's rapid pace for his solo. Soprano Simona Saturova was the most appealing of the vocal soloists, with a beautifully focused timbre, and the Mendelssohn Choir sang with gusto.

This concert will be repeated at 7:30 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 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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