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Spanish conductor evokes superlative Pittsburgh Symphony concert

| Saturday, March 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The concerto style filled Friday night's Pittsburgh Symphony concert led by Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, culminating in Bela Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.

The Spanish conductor devoted the first half to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, beginning with the Serenade No. 6, “Serenata Nortturno.” It is full of Mozartean charm in the march first movement, the Minuet and Trio that follow and the Rondo conclusion.

Mozart drew on the baroque tradition one would find in a concerto grosso to separate a small group of soloists from the rest of the string section — and for extra spice added a rhythmical timpani part. Violinists Noah Bendix-Balgley and Jennifer Ross, violist Randolph Kelly and bassist Jeffrey Turner played with delicious personality. Bendix-Balgley was especially playful, with Ross admirably assertive.

Fruhbeck de Burgos was both elegant and decisive, a superlative Mozartean.

Piano soloist Shai Wosner was fortunate to have so delightfully shaped an orchestral opening in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 15. Fruhbeck de Burgos set a good lively tempi, which gave an infectious lift to the opening woodwind idea. The answer from the violins set up a conversational tone that carried throughout the concerto.

But if Wosner was lucky, his entrance showed the audience at Heinz Hall was lucky, too.

He plays with lively and wise musicality and achieved a very clean sound on the Steinway piano.

Wosner has commanding solo presence but accompanies uncommonly well, too. In the slow movement he gave arresting contours to a swirling accompaniment figure, balancing perfectly when he accompanied the strings, had the melody in his right hand in chords, and was accompanying the winds in the tune while the strings played pizzicato.

Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra had similar strengths to performances this conductor led in 2005 at Heinz Hall of Igor Stravinsky's “The Rite of Spring.” It was unfailingly well focused emotionally, brought fresh details to the ear, and packed a tremendous wallop. The tempi that were slower than expected brought their own rewards.

The piece showcases the orchestra, not only the usual principal players, and was played superbly throughout. One could only wish for a larger string section.

This concert will be repeated at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in 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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