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Symphony soars through 'Plato's Night'

| Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, 12:06 a.m.

A great performer will make a work's flaws less important than its strengths, a skill guest conductor Gianandrea Noseda demonstrated at Friday night's Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concert at Heinz Hall.

Noseda introduced Victor De Sabata's “La Notte di Platon” (Plato's Night) by speaking of the composer's stature among Italians as a god among conductors and his importance to the Pittsburgh Symphony as a guest conductor, especially between music directors Fritz Reiner and William Steinberg. He also rightly spoke of a conductor's influence extending beyond his own tenure, or even beyond the time of musicians who played for him.

He might well have added that in Pittsburgh De Sabata was additionally influential for one of the orchestra's second violinists who played under him — Lorin Maazel, who was music director here from 1988-96.

In any case, ultimately it was the strength of De Sabata's composition that mattered most Friday night. The piece was inspired by a dinner party Greek philosopher Plato hosted, but De Sabata offered a different musical than Leonard Bernstein did in his “Serenade after Plato's Symposium.” While Bernstein's piece is structured as a series of speeches, De Sabata presents the argumentative give-and-take more characteristic of Plato's other dialogues.

Noseda led a very persuasive performance, evocative of a Mediterranean evening, presenting the fervor of minds in contention, and conveying a sense of spiritual exaltation.

Benjamin Hochman was the soloist for Maurice Ravel's Concerto for Piano Left Hand, written for an Austrian pianist who lost his right arm in World War I. The concerto is a piece of fantastic imagination and identification, quite beyond the ingenuity of the piano writing.

Hochman was effective in many passages and is obviously musical, but wasn't on top of some of the music. Clarity of voicing, including downward arpeggios that disappeared rather than registering, was a problem.

The concert concluded with “Aus Italien” by Richard Strauss. Noseda made the best possible case for the work, but there was no disguising the fact that Strauss' use of the tune “Funicli-Funicula” had all the ebullience of bratwurst in sauerkraut.

This concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $20 to $35. 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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