Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall

Divertimento for String Orchestra
Symphony No.88 in G
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.74 (Pathétique)

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Christoph von Dohnányi

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 23 May, 2006
Venue: Carnegie Hall, New York City

This largely stunning concert marked Christoph von Dohnányi’s 50th appearance at Carnegie Hall. Renewing an association from three years ago, Dohnányi came to the hall as guest conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, an organization founded in 1896 by a group of hometown industrialists that included steel magnate Andrew Carnegie.

The program offered music from three composers from three different periods and very diverse points of view. The concert opened with a dynamic reading of Bartók’s Divertimento for String Orchestra. Composed in August 1939, only weeks before the European war broke out, the music is indwelling and splendidly expressive, dark and brooding in some places, but everywhere filled with echoes of Bartók’s interest in the Hungarian folk melodies that so occupied him in his earlier years.

The piece proved an excellent showpiece for the Pittsburgh Symphony’s excellent string section. Dohnányi drew powerful yet wonderfully transparent sound from the players, especially the violins. In the double concerto of sorts that concludes the piece, concertmaster Andrés Cárdenes and first cellist Anne Martindale Williams played with just the right combination of energy and precision.

Dohnányi’s handling of Haydn’s Symphony No.88 was a vibrant experience. The Pittsburgh musicians demonstrated genuine vitality in a glowing performance, which was characterized by lively tempos, rich timbres and urgency of musical feeling. The joyful playing in the first movement was impressive, as was the nobility of phrasing in the second, but the high point of the performance was the Menuetto. Dohnányi’s approach to the Trio in the third movement was fresh and masterly, and he drew outstanding playing from the pair of bassoons. The lightly sprung, vivacious playing in the finale was another special delight.

Dohnányi re-arranged the orchestra for each piece on the evening’s program. For the Haydn he split the violins—firsts to his left, seconds to his right—with the violas and cellos in the center. Separating the violins proved beneficial to Haydn’s music, as the cheerful melodies bounced back and forth between the sections.

The evening concluded with a superbly concentrated rendering of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony – intense and dramatic, but never overdone. Dohnányi adopted consistently brisk tempos throughout the piece, and the articulation of the Pittsburgh players was consistently precise and strong. The last two movements were especially fine. The very fast speed of the third movement’s triumphant march was exhilarating. The eloquence and soulful lyricism of the strings in the finale resonate in the memory, as does the exquisite playing of bassoonist Nancy Goeres and clarinettist Michael Rusinek.

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