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Review: Unfamiliar music in good hands at PSO concert

| Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, 12:02 a.m.

Persuasive performances of unfamiliar music preceded a distinctive account of a romantic-era masterpiece at Friday evening's Pittsburgh Symphony concert led by Gianandrea Noseda.

Music from Alfredo Casella's 1932 opera “La Donna Serpente” opened the concert with fresh and vigorous music, brilliantly scored.

Noseda led two suites from the opera, starting with the Second Suite. Its second movement began with a beautifully projected and sensitively drawn bassoon solo played by Nancy Goeres, which developed into an appealing duet with oboist Cynthia DeAlmeida. The principal oboist also shined in the opening of the First Suite.

Although impressive in many ways, Casella's score also is uneven, and doesn't escape excessive bombast. One can easily imagine that Benito Mussolini loved Casella's music for the glory of war.

Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 5 is one of the more infrequently performed of the composer's concerto works, though it has had its champions, such as Sviatoslav Richter.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and Noseda made a very strong case for the work. The pianist, who was making his local debut, showed real affinity for the music. He had the technique to play Prokofiev's showy gestures with due flair, but more importantly he lived the phrases with the orchestra.

Noseda led a performance of Robert Schumann's Symphony No. 2 to complete the concert. It was an interpretation that brought to mind the fact that Felix Mendelssohn, known for his swift tempi, conducted the premiere in 1846.

The orchestra played with devotion and discipline for Noseda. The first movement's introduction started at a flowing sostenuto, but Noseda sped up a great deal when Schumann asked only for “a little more vivacious.” However, the main part of the first movement was extremely well-paced and animated.

The Scherzo was a tour de force for the orchestra's strings, especially first violins. The two Trios were both somewhat faster than the norm, but very nicely shaped and colored.

The slow movement was properly treated as the heart of the work, at a moderately slow tempo that suited the melody. DeAlmeida's oboe solo benefitted from an eloquent counterpoint from Goeres.

The finale provides a brilliant conclusion to the symphony, and drew an enthusiastic response from the audience.

This concert will be repeated at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 23 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $25.75 to $105.75. Details: 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org.

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