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Music

Review: Symphony brings 'Sound of Summer' to life

| Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, 12:00 p.m.

“Sounds of Summer” proved to be a gem of a concert by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on Sept. 3 at the Kaufmann Center in the Hill District. It was part of the symphony's Neighborhood Week of performances around town.

Principal flute Lorna McGhee began the concert with a scintillating account of the final movement of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's Concerto in D minor. While it lacks the programmatic connection with summer found in the rest of the program, the music does possess an electric energy that was compared to a summer lightning storm. McGhee's playing was striking not only for its virtuosity but also for warm, golden tone.

Samuel Barber's “Knoxville, Summer of 1915” was the evening's centerpiece, and a valuable contrast with the music which surrounded it. It is both an endearing reminiscence of a time gone by and an insightful exploration of identity. Set to a text by James Agee, it is a recollection of time he spent “disguised to myself as a child.”

Soprano Jasmine Muhammad made the music live in full dimension, along with the chamber orchestra, which included many string, wind and brass principal players, under the director of Lawrence Loh. “Knoxville” was proof of her immense growth during her now completed three years as a Pittsburgh Opera resident artist. Always an astute interpreter, her voice has filled out magnificently and has the heft, richness and luster that should bring her a big career.

Violinist Jennifer Orchard was the soloist and leader, Loh was off stage, in “Summer” from Antonio Vivaldi's “The Four Seasons.” She effectively contrasted summer's languid moods with Vivaldi's stormier passages in a performance which had the best attributes of chamber music. However, there was too little of the harpsichord part, which was played on an electronic keyboard.

“Summer” from Astor Piazzolla's “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires” brought the smartly programmed event to a brilliant conclusion. It was performed in Leonid Desyatnikov's clever arrangement for solo violin and string which was made for Russian violinist Gidon Kremer. Desyatnikov's version is a mash up which inserts bits of Vivaldi's “Winter” into Piazzolla's music, a reminder that south of the equator July is a snow month, not January.

Orchard reveled in the spirit and virtuosity of the solo part. The symphony strings, led by Loh, performed with energy and flair, too, even if the slides they get to play are less flamboyant.

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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