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Bendix-Balgley recital a welcoming opportunity for new concertmaster

The superb recital played by Noah Bendix-Balgley on Sunday evening provided the opportunity to get to know the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's new concertmaster in new ways.

Music lovers have already heard him in mainly very short orchestral repertoire solos, as well as two short solo pieces with the orchestra. But the concert at Temple Emanuel in Mount Lebanon concluded with an exceptionally rewarding interpretation of Cesar Franck's lengthy Violin Sonata.

The violinist introduced the Franck by sharing his view of its four movements — virtually scenes from a marriage: beginning in happiness, following with the inevitable conflict, working things out and concluding with a walk together.

The expressive arch of the music was wonderfully sustained and filled-in by Bendix-Balgley and pianist Rodrigo Ojeda. The violinist brought idiomatic eloquence to music that is inherently beautiful. His technique is wonderful but more remarkably the nuances of his phrasing conveyed a sincerity, even nobility, that was irresistibly affecting. Strong lyricism soared with gleaming tone.

The piano in this piece, as throughout the recital, was played with expressive richness that combined excellent voicing and a wonderful dynamic range. Ojeda has played keyboard for the symphony since 2006.

The concert opened with Igor Stravinsky's "Suite Italienne, which the he arranged from his "Pulcinella." The performance was expressively warmer than Stravinsky's own performing style in his later years, but always in the best taste. And if the Franck Sonata would show impressively sustained on-the-string playing, the Stravinsky gave Bendix-Balgley the opportunity for a lot of good edgy bowing.

The violinist also played three pieces of Jewish music from Russia a century ago. Joseph Achron's Hebrew Melody was intense without losing dignity and featured a big sound that was the more impressive for never throbbing.

The last of three encores was Fritz Kreisler's "Liebesleid" (Love's Sorrows), a tribute on the exact 50th anniversary of the death of the legendary Viennese violinist and composer. Bendix-Balgley was a Kreisler fan as a kid and obviously still is. He played "Liebesleid" in Kreisler's own style, with haunting beauty but not sentimentalized.

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