Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Scores with Ravel, Schubert and Honeck  *

Conductor Leads his own Symphonic Suite from ‘Carmen’ and More

By George B. Parous

Last night was by far one of the most thrilling concerts the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has given this season.

Conductor Honeck and members of the PSO

By the time people were taking their seats, the usual PSO “buzz” was in the air – the return of Manfred Honeck, this time as a conductor and the arranger of an orchestra suite; the excellent guest pianist, Seong-Jin Cho, and the composers to be represented were Maurice Ravel, Franz Schubert and Manfred Honeck himself, in a brilliantly conceived Symphonic Suite from Turandot, (Giacomo Puccini’s final opera), those who opted to give the concert a pass missed one of the most impressive this season has offered. The crowd was not especially large.

The World Premiere of the Symphonic Suite from ‘’Turandot” (conceived by Maestro Honeck and arranged by Yomáš Ille) was played last night with great enthusiasm by the orchestra. It started the program, but is by no means the average, uninspired orchestral arrangement of an opera’s “greatest hits.” Maestro Honeck’s conception is to use the most dramatic of Puccini’s music, crank it up a notch or two, and have the instrumentalists play it with great verve and spirit. It was delivered in a way that people unaware of the opera would have left with quite an impression lingering on their minds. Mr. Honeck’s conducting of the orchestra was quite impassioned, and the audience wanted to give some right back to him, for the applause and whistles continued for some time.

Seong-Jin Cho – Guest Piano Soloist

The first half closed with a very spirited rendition by Mr. Cho and the orchestra of Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in G for Piano and orchestra. Ravel once said that he wrote the concert for entertainment rather than “profundity,” and clocking in at about 20 minutes it’s quite entertaining indeed. He also composed it in bits between 1929-31, and the first sound heard from the stage is the crack of a whip. He later remarked that his bit of entertainment was one of his most difficult compositions. From the bright piccolo melody which opens the piece, Ravel touches the lovely, his nostalgia, and ends the piece with a thrilling climax for the soloist and orchestra that sounds much like American jazz.

Mr. Cho is a young and dynamic pianist who made an immense impression on the audience, but it’s unlikely that the size of the audience made much of an impression on him. Despite this distraction, he played quite beautifully, and this time being seated where we could see his hands, we can say he plays with great ease and dexterity, with proper hand placement that puts the entire grand at his easy access. This Ravel piece, like the one before it, ended with as much applause as the audience could make, and it made the longest and loudest it could, complete with applause, whistling and shouting. Mr. Cho was evidently filled in on what that means here, for after a few recalls, he shyly returned to his piano and played a lovely, mellow piece as an encore. He then bowed his acknowledgment of the reception he had received and was gone.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Franz Schubert’s Symphony in  C Major D. 944  “The Great.” Like a number of the greats’ great, Schubert had died in Vienna in 1828, long before his “Great Symphony” premiered in Leipzig in 1839, with none other than Felix Mendelssohn conducting. There’s no unanimous opinion as to exactly why the “Great” was composed; he had no commission for it, and it was too hefty and complicated for the amateur musical societies in and around Vienna. It was deemed “unperformable” in Schubert’s lifetime and for a number of years after his death. The four movements fascinate, compel, and have the ability to draw a thunderous ovation from a moderate crowd. It is possible that the recording of the performance may have kept the crowd size down.

It was a brilliant program that too many people missed,

Photography by Julie Goetze

* Please excuse any confusion caused by misinterpretation of concert dates in a previously published version of this review.

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