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Pittsburgh Symphony's renditions of Respighi, Beethoven strong, bold

| Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, 5:17 p.m.

The Pittsburgh Symphony sounded eager at Friday night's BNY Mellon Grand Classics to make music again after the Christmas break.

The performances of three strongly contrasting pieces were led by the excellent, young German conductor Christoph Konig, returning for the third time to the Heinz Hall podium.

Konig opened with a strong and confident performance of Ottorino Respighi's unfamiliar “Belfagor Overture.” Respighi is best known for “The Pines of Rome” and other symphonic poems but, though one could hear elements of his familiar style, the “Belfagor Overture” provides its own brand of excitement and rich orchestration.

The local premiere of American composer Philip Glass' Violin Concerto No. 2 provided a complete change of pace. It's subtitled “The American Four Seasons” and was commissioned as a companion piece for Antonio Vivaldi's “The Four Seasons.”

Glass does not label any of his concerto's four movements with the name of a season. And while some of his minimalist procedures have some degree of analogy with Vivaldi's baroque idiom, the pieces are worlds apart.

Glass is a celebrated composer, with his own band of enthusiasts, but one who has had more success in the opera house, or writing for ballet or film, than he has had in the concert hall.

The concerto is almost invariably appealing in the moment, usually with a rhythmically urgent accompaniment. Although there are some passages that are boring, there is a bigger problem in this 40-minute piece. Even the best of it, such as the opening of the second movement, soon sounds like a transition to better music that never arrives.

Violinist Tim Fain gave an ardent performance, playing with plenty of energy, intensity and tonal variety. Konig led an assured accompaniment. The musicians received a standing ovation.

Konig's most impressive work was in Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 (“Pastorale”), which completed the concert. He offered a fresh, sensitive, elegant and totally unmannered interpretation. Beethoven's full textures were uncommonly well balanced.

This concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $20 to $94. Details: 412-392-4900 or pittsburghsymphony.org.

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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