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Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Give Electrifying Performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9

The Mendelssohn Choir, Soloists and Two Commissioned World Premières Add to What May Be the Most Remarkable Concert of the Season


Routinely, Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra present the writer with the challenge of reaching for superlative adjectives which haven’t been repeated to the point of monotony when describing this world-class organization’s performances. Last evening they, along with the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh and four gifted vocal soloists, gave a rendition of Ludwig van Beethoven’s massive Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Opus 125, “Choral,that was colossally magnificent, stupendously exuberant, gargantuanly delicate, by turns, to the point where words can be spun in an effort to capture the grandeur of what the audience experienced, but fall short of touching the true immensity of an evening  that won’t soon be forgotten by the huge crowd on hand. But that was the second half of the program. Everyone warmed up with some mightily impressive music as well.

One of the PSO commissioned world premières on the first half of the program was a remarkably ripe and seasoned Adgilis Deda – Hymn for Orchestra, by Samy Moussa, a young conductor-composer who has crafted what straight from birth sounds like a well established piece fit for the finest orchestras of the world. He writes in a truly “traditional” symphonic style, with a great deal of originality. He uses for this work the inspiration of ancient Georgian spiritual beliefs which included the deity Adgilis Deda – “Mother of a Place,” traditionally portrayed as a beautiful woman with silver jewelry. The 12 minutes of music gleam like silver in spots and use the entire orchestra as an expression of much musical interest. Honeck conducted the first hearing of the work in a manner that gave full appreciation of every shade and nuance. Mr. Moussa was on hand to receive a well-deserved, hearty ovation.

The other PSO commissioned world première was Tomáš Ille and Manfred Honeck’s arrangement and orchestration of Anton Bruckner’s Adagio from String Quintet in F Major. Bruckner’s sublime piece of chamber music was brought to new life. The conductor-arranger was rewarded with another ovation, one of the kind that seemed to typify the evening. Bruckner also featured into the first half of the program with two a capella mixed choruses – Locus iste (1869) which opened the evening, and Ave Maria (1861), both sung marvelously by the well-balanced and grouped Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh, under the direction of Daniel Singer.

But another word or two about the Beethoven symphony in conclusion. As mentioned, the excellent interpretation of the first three movements nearly defied description, but in the fourth, the Presto – Allegro Assai – Allegro Assai Vivace, the magnificent and massive choir was augmented by four gifted soloists, all making their PSO debuts – Martina Russomanno, soprano; Evgenia Asanova, mezzo-soprano; Seungwoo Simon Yang, tenor, and Vladyslav Buialskyi, bass-baritone. Ms. Russomanno sent soaring, clarion tones to the rafters, and Mr. Buialskyi sang with a robust and resonant authority. Mr. Yang possesses a clear and pure tenor voice, and Ms. Asanova, a warm mezzo-soprano.

If last evening’s performance can be topped – or even equaled –  it’s only Honeck and the PSO who can do it. They and the Mendelssohn Choir and soloists will repeat the program tonight, Saturday, April 27 at 7:30, and tomorrow, Sunday afternoon, at 2:30. Don’t miss out on what may be a once in a decade thrill.

For tickets, visit the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra website or call 412-392-4900 – the seating chart indicates sooner is a better idea than later.