Symphony delivers on neglected work

Pittsburgh Tribune

From the first notes by Paul Hindemith to the final ones by Robert Schumann, Friday night's Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concert led by Andres Cardenes was a stimulating and rewarding experience.

The program consisted of German and Austrian music from the classical, romantic and early modern eras. The Heinz Hall performances showed why this is the heart of orchestral repertoire, even if a given example is a neglected work.

Cardenes began with Hindemith's Concert Music for Strings and Brass, written in 1930 for the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but infrequently played. The composer was recognized as a giant in his time, but has been neglected since his death in 1963.

Unfortunately, the performance was preceded by a video interview between Cardenes and principal trumpet George Vosburgh that went on too long. Apart from being a prepackaged product, the video was a reminder that it is not wise to precede live music with amplified voices.

The performance was strong and smart, with excellent balances and rhythmic force. Cardenes was sensitive to and brought out the baroque, classical and modern elements of Hindemith's writing. And as excellent as the brass was, both solos and ensemble, the string playing was even more uncommonly well projected.

Korean violinist Chee-Yun brought color - a strapless and low-cut red dress - to the symphony's black-and-white stage attire for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Third Violin Concerto. She played along with the first violins until shortly before she began the solo part.

The violinist brought an articulate bow and warm sonority to her performance. It was perceptive and enjoyable, even if some notes had too much vibrato.

Cardenes set up the Adagio with a superb soft introduction, while Chee-Yun played the solo with considerable depth. However, the cadenza in this movement was too long.

The Third Symphony "Rhenish" by Schumann brought the concert to a triumphant conclusion. This music expresses the composer's elation when he moved from central Germany to a city on the Rhine river.

The "Rhenish" is an underplayed masterpiece, a strong link in the chain of German tradition from Beethoven to Brahms. Next season new music director Manfred Honeck will conduct Symphony No. 1 by Gustav Mahler, which alludes strongly to the coda of the last movement of the "Rhenish."

Cardenes was shrewd indeed in his voicing and sensitivity to dynamic levels, particularly fortes that were not too loud. Rhythmic focus and melodic inflections were irresistible.