From Barber to Dvorak, the symphony proved its considerable talent..
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Symphony presented an outstanding concert at the Scottish Rite Cathedral Thursday night.
As gifted conductor Peter Oundjian remarked, all three pieces performed are major works of the highest quality.
Oundjian, recently appointed music director of the Toronto Symphony, was exceptional, always controlling the musical flow and melding the astonishing talents of the orchestra personnel.
The evening's high point was reached in Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings (1937), a work that seems to signal a profound sadness accompanied by a kind of serene resignation. Barber transcribed the slow movement from his Second String Quartet for string orchestra at the request of the great Toscanini, and since the premiere, the piece has been played at times of national tragedy, as in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.
The Pittsburgh Symphony performance was impassioned. Oundjian, dispensing with his baton, seemed to have amazing control. The symphony strings played the long, expressive phrases beautifully, and at the close the entire audience was transfixed and then burst into applause.
The big piece
The Dvorak B minor Cello Concerto, Opus 104, was the night's major work, and Oundjian introduce the soloist, Alisa Weilerstein, as someone he had "known from the day she was born, 21 years ago." Weilerstein has played trios with her parents, also professional musicians, since childhood. Hence, it was not surprising that her interpretation had maturity and expression quite unusual in so young a performer.
From her first-movement entry she played with great authority, never being eclipsed by the large ensemble, despite the somewhat thin sound of her cello. She compensated with a powerful bow arm and incredible vibrato. Her first movement duets with the flute and oboe were especially beautiful.
The slow movement, in A B A form, is the piece's central jewel. The clarinet, supported by the woodwinds, introduces the opening theme, and is answered by the solo cello. Weilerstein's subsequent arpeggios were gorgeous. After a powerful tutti signaling the middle section, the flute and oboe each have a beautiful dialogue with the cello soloist, who plays the theme based on Dvorak's song, "Leave Me Alone," in memory of the composer's recently deceased sister-in-law. All this was beautifully performed by soloist and orchestra. The finale never rises to the heights of the intense slow movement.
The Modest Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition, as orchestrated by Maurice Ravel, closed the concert.
The artist, Victor Hartmann, a close Mussorgsky friend, died suddenly, and the composer chose several paintings from the memorial St. Petersburg exhibition to form inspiration for a piano piece. In 1923, nearly 50 years later, Ravel, considered one of the greatest 20th-century orchestrators, produced the version that is so frequently performed today.
The Pittsburgh Symphony performance was outstanding, with the brass section providing especially wonderful bright colors.