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Flavors of the world treat for PSO fans

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Saturday, May 18, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Nothing was routine at Friday night's Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concert, when guest conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier led an exciting program of music by four composers from as many countries.

The featured soloist was Valentina Lisitsa, who made a spectacular debut in 2010 playing Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 with Manfred Honeck. Her career has blossomed since then, including serious online popularity — 50 million viewers — and major recordings.

Lisitsa is playing Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto this weekend at Heinz Hall, offering an uncommonly personal interpretation. Her first entrance was a striking display of big sonority matching big gesture. Then Lisitsa proceeded to play with rapt introspection, taking listeners on a dreamy exploration of music we might have thought we knew well.

Tortelier and the orchestra were with the soloist no matter how the pace slowed, though at one point the conductor and horn soloist helped keep time in the perspective. The second movement was also full of inward feelings, with broadly sweeping emotion.

The finale was marked most of all by a sense of joyous music making, as well as the necessary combination of big league sonority and fearless virtuosity. Lisitsa received a standing ovation and played two encores.

The concert opened with the local premiere “Siderius” by Osvald Golijov. The Pittsburgh Symphony was one of 35 orchestras that co-commissioned the eight-minute piece. The title is a reference to Galileo Galilei's treatise on astronomy. Tortelier led a fully committed and well-balanced performance.

Tortelier led inspired performances of music about Spain and Italy after intermission, starting with his most-beloved composer Maurice Ravel's “Rapsodie espagnole.” It was incredibly atmospheric, but also precisely delineated.

Edward Elgar's “In the South” is a far less familiar composition, but the elan and warmth Toertelier and the orchestra achieved made its neglect seem an injustice. Elgar isn't as light on his feet as Ravel, nor as heavy as Richard Strauss, with whom he shared a love of rich, luxurious textures.

English hornist Harold Smoliar was an outstanding soloist in the Ravel, while Randolph Kelly played the viola solo in the Elgar with a restrained fervor that felt utterly idiomatic.

This concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $20 to $93. 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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