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Review: Previn delights at PSO premiere

The return of Andre Previn to Heinz Hall on Friday night was more than an exercise in nostalgia. He was Pittsburgh Symphony music director from 1976-84 and often has been back.

But there's no nostalgia attached to a world premiere, and the new Triple Concerto Previn brought with him was wonderful to encounter.

Previn, 82, has trouble walking and was assisted at the start of the concert by stagehand John Karapandi. He sat in an upholstered chair while conducting.

But once settled, his music making had familiar elegant, intelligent and witty contours starting in Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 102.

Previn's new Triple Concerto for Horn, Trumpet, Tuba and Orchestra was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony and performed by principal players William Caballero, George Vosburgh and Craig Knox.

The trumpet is the first solo instrument to play in all three movements, followed by the horn. Previn's writing demands the utmost virtuosity but, despite all its rhythmic energy, is often carried by singing qualities.

Vosburgh was the brilliant lead soloist, with a meaty lower register in which Previn often has him dwell, as well as a silvery top end. He phrased the second movement's main theme with exquisite control and sensitivity.

Previn wrote a great if sometimes wickedly challenging part for tuba. It's a real workout in range and tonguing. Knox's big tone in his upper register was beautifully suited to Previn's lyrical writing.

The horn part did not emerge strongly except at a handful of points, which may have been due to seating the soloists right in front of the conductor, rather than behind him at the front of the stage. Caballero played with his customary confidence, accuracy and variety of timbre.

The way Previn weaves the solo parts into a larger symphonic line reminds me that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart called his orchestral work featuring solo violin and viola a "Sinfonia concertante." The range of emotions and moods Previn visits is quite different from Mozart, but the new concerto is one I look forward to hearing again.

A genial and knowing performance of Felix Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony completed the concert. Although earlier movements were broadly paced, the finale was fast and exciting.

This concert will be repeated at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $20 to $93. Details: 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org .

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