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Spanish, Argentine flavors spice PSO concert

| Friday, May 29, 2015, 11:09 p.m.

Four well-varied pieces of exciting Spanish or Argentine music plus the premiere of an American piece added up to an exciting symphony concert Friday night when Juanjo Mena returned to the Heinz Hall podium.

The Spanish conductor began with Claude Debussy's “Iberia,” which itself is a compendium of Spanish flavors and aromas. The first movement was boldly conceived, although the brass was a bit too loud, and uncommonly responsive to lyrical moments.

Mena was wonderfully evocative in the nocturnal second movement, taking time for swells of sound to carry the audience along. The festive finale moved easily from atmospheric to extroverted, and featured a strongly characterized violin solo by Mark Huggins.

Debussy's sensibilities and the titles of some of his pieces were part of the inspiration of David Ludwig's “Pictures from the Floating World,” which received its first orchestral performance Friday night. The composer spoke before the performance and mentioned the influence of Japanese woodblock art on Debussy.

The music is an excellent showpiece for bassoon, which was played with utter mastery by principal bassoon Nancy Goeres. Her tone was gorgeous and open on top, rich and solid on the bottom. And her phrasing made the most of Ludwig's long melodic lines, starting with oriental inflections.

The piece is in three movements, the middle one surrounded by two interludes. The torrent of notes Goeres produced in the second interlude, playing with cellists Anne Martindale Williams and David Premo, was engulfing.

Mena conducted two knockout pieces by Alberto Ginastera on the second half. The Suite from “Panambi,” written while he was a student in Buenos Aires, benefited from Mena's sensitivity and the orchestra's virtuosity. It was topped by “Four Dances” from “Estancia,” written four years after “Panambi.” The final dance is a malambo, which rocked Heinz Hall and featured powerhouse timpani solos and ensemble playing by Edward Stephan. Manuel de Falla's “Interlude and Dance” from “La Vida Breve” had a wonderful, ominous tone and featured more brilliant playing by the Pittsburgh Symphony.

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

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or

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