Honeck, soloists master Tell's 'Lone Ranger' set
Many orchestral concerts feature a guest soloist, but the special appeal of Friday night's Pittsburgh Symphony concert was that music director Manfred Honeck and the symphony had the program to themselves.
Honeck began with “The William Tell Overture” by Gioachcino Rossini, ultra popular a couple of generations ago when “The Lone Ranger” show was on television, but actually rarely encountered in the concert hall these days.
Honeck led a very decisive performance which opened with the big cello solo beautifully played by Anne Martindale Williams, with luscious support by her colleagues. The conductor really drove the thunder of the storm, and followed with a pastoral section marked by expressive solos. The concluding gallop was very well paced and full of personality.
Franz Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 93 in D major was a reminder that Honeck's style is modern Viennese, very cognizant of musicological fashion. He contrasted the more elegant if driven three-quarter style in the first movement with the also quick but heavier style in the third movement.
After intermission Honeck conducted Richard Strauss' “Ein Heldenleben” (A Heroic Life) in a performance broadly similar in conception to his recorded concert performance five years ago. It is highly nuanced, ultra-dynamic, with wide variations in tempo. The slow pacing of the section between the violin solo and the beginning of the battle was again very slow.
Wonderful solo playing abounded, including from the three new principal players who have joined the orchestra since the last “Heldenleben.” Concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley vivified many different aspects of the personality of the composer's wife, but soloists who have been playing “Heldenleben” at Heinz Hall for years also excelled — including principal horn Willliam Caballero and English horn Harold Smoliar.
The concert also featured the latest incarnation of “concert enhancement,” now videos of members of the orchestra talking about their part and demonstrating it. Principal cellist Williams was terrific talking about “William Tell,” but this gimmick was already getting old before intermission.
It's grotesque to see and hear a recorded video by someone sitting on stage. Is it any surprise they sounded more beautiful live than recorded?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.