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Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes Returns to Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Powerful Program Thrills Audience and Scores Another Success for PSO

By GEORGE B. PAROUS

Everything was thrillingly perfect at Heinz Hall last evening. That about sums it up. But a few more words for those who weren’t there, or are planning on being at the Sunday matinee, a few might not be totally out of place. Manfred Honeck was Manfred Honeck. Anyone who has seen him conduct the PSO must be grateful for his habit of keeping his back to the crowd and his baton high in the air until the last possible vibration from the orchestra fades to silence. It’s only then that he lowers the baton and turns, that the thunderous ovations begin. He received two positively well earned ones last evening, and the audience recalled him to the stage a number of times. He rightly shared the evening’s honors with the orchestra and guest soloist.

Of course, Honeck could not achieve the brilliant results he gets without the instrumentalists of the orchestra. They play with great stamina and precision – they certainly did last night – or, can slide to sublimely delicate pianissimos, all with the seemingly greatest of ease. Visiting soloist Leif Ove Andsnes, the acclaimed pianist (seen above, in a photo by Helge Hansen), joined the orchestra in what was nothing short of a brilliant, marvelous performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 30. The concerto is but 44 minutes long, but the the three movements are a large and fascinating three movements, and come to an end with a bravura climax that, as played last night, came way to soon. And there it was again; the custom of remaining silent until the movements are complete; of controlling the urge to applaud in the brief moments between them.

Mr. Andsnes’ playing during the first half of the program was an astonishing thrill. His vigorous technique, his incredible endurance, his showmanship; all were done with sincerity and a genuine desire that he pleased the audience. Due to its difficulty, the concerto was for a time mostly admired by violinists and orchestras rather than performed. Rachmaninoff made changes to the most challenging spots of the movements, but it is only in years closer to the present that the cuts are restored to the thrilling masterpiece. The applause came like an avalanche at the end of the concerto, and continued until Mr. Andsnes obliged a number of recalls and finally relented with a light and charming encore piece.  The chatter in the lobby and lounge between parts one and two were almost breathless with excitement.

Part two of the program was Franz Liszt’s A Symphony to Dante’s “Divine Comedy” for Orchestra and Women’s Chorus. The work was performed for the first time ever by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra last evening, and what a performance it was indeed. There is disagreement between music scholars as to whether the work is a symphony in the strictest sense of the word, or two descriptive symphonic poems performed one after the other. Due to lack of rehearsal time, the Dresden premiere in 1857, conducted by Liszt, was a disaster, and much like Rachmaninoff and his third concerto, Liszt was compelled to do a bit of blue-penciling himself before the work was better received.

Last night both movements thrilled and made an enormous hit with all. One of the most enchanting moments of the entire evening came in the second movement, close to the end, when from behind the scenes about seventy women’s voices from the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh floated softly over the hall. Under the direction of Daniel Singer it was a lovely part of an evening that was a blend of lovely and thrilling.

You can read so much more about the music, musicians, the programs, or get TICKETS at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra web site. There’s another chance at this program and it shouldn’t be missed.