Connections: Rossini, Mozart and Tchaikovsky – Doug Bauman

A rendezvous with classical music is often a journey to the depths of one’s soul. Often I see it as a look into our emotions, our hearts and our passions. When I hear the best of this form, it often elicits a lucid experience of what I love most, and for me it is the core of this music, this glorious art-form that transcends all others and mixes these emotions in inexplicable manners and expressions which fulfil and bring joy and a smile to my lips. This happened tonight as I listened to the selections performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony orchestra under the baton of Gianandrea Noseda, one of my favorite conductors
Benjamin Hochman gave a fabulous performance playing the piano in Mozart’s Concerto No. 19, a piece I’ve experienced countless times, and was perfectly glad to finally hear live and in person. I found it fascinating to hear from some friends and others that they had not heard this before, nor the Cinderella selection by Rossini, another of my perennial favorites. So I myself must be an oddity, or simply a classical music enthusiast of sorts, and it was nice to hear these selections with which I am so familiar.
Perhaps I am lauding the PSO in particular, but I suspect that the live performance aspect, as I’ve mentioned before, brings out the very best of the acoustics, the dynamic range, and the total tonal hearing phenomena to its fullest form – one’s hearing of the actual instruments at a concert hall like Heinz Hall is without compare.
The final selection, Tchaikovsky’s symphony No. 3 was breathtaking, and typical of his symphonies for its flair, Russian sounding themes, and total triumphant bravura. Being a lesser known symphony, this performance gave me the opportunity to hear it for perhaps only the second time. The final movement was better known to me, and the rest was new. My favorite parts were the softer movements – the 2nd, 3rd and 4th – out of the total of 5 movements, yet they were each interesting in their own respect.
In the 2nd there commenced a soft pastoral theme, and at one point the low basses were keeping the beat, while the rest of the orchestra dramatically presented breathtaking mood. Later, at home, I listened to this symphony again, and I didn’t hear the exact same thing, probably because it’s difficult to hear the same dynamic range. The 3rd movement was also quite soft, mixing in resplendent melodies dramatically placed using somber sounds, with low frequencies and low volumes, easily heard in Heinz Hall with its acoustics. I wondered how it would ever be done on a recording, without the use of a volume compression technique, which sort of ruins the intended effect. Throughout these movements the string section held the pieces together like a lofty tether on a lazy afternoon, holding clouds and feathers together in an ambling mixture of tepid flowing fluid.

The 4th movement took the pastoral theme from the previous and expanded it in a way as to seemingly make the sounds of the instrument come alive. At one point I envisioned within my mind the scrambling of small animals, perhaps in the depths of the large Russian forests, full of lush greenery and huge conifer and deciduous trees lining the entire canopy. Quickly, with conductor Noseda’s sweeping of his arms, he inspired the orchestra into motives and sounds subtle yet attuned to my metaphor. I heard the rustling of leaves, the swaying of trees, the commotion in the forest lessened, and the sound faded out finally with the final scurry of the final animal to one side only to behold the entrance of the fifth and final movement.

Then the grandeur commenced, only this time my imagination brought forth to my mind the image of the huge brown bear,  a national ‘personification’ of Russia — a large magnanimous creature, not clumsy, rather more cuddly, despite his size. This magnificent beast ambled into the scene slowly, with slower and softer sounds from the orchestra building concisely to a masterful statement built upon a melody that is overlaid multiple times, and eventually the whole ensemble brings together this image I’ve conjured for myself into a climax rivaled only by Tchaikovsky himself in his subsequent symphonies. One of my friends stood to applaud and exclaimed “There’s no doubt, that most definitely is Tchaikovsky!”
What are the connections between these pieces and the conductor with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra? Well, tonight the banding piece is the PSO, our very own wonderful American Orchestra which is the binding connection itself. This evening was played three completely different pieces, written many years ago by European and Russian composers, and as conductor Noseda said himself in the post concert chat, the PSO has a “versatility that stands out,” according to “different styles,” and was able to play these pieces “three different ways,” marvelous ways, they are not just “good,” but these musicians want to play the music in a way that “touches,” by “participating in the music.” That was a wonderful complement to the PSO from Maestro Noseda, who is not only an impressive conductor, but a marvelous speaker in his own right. He also described connections between each of the selections this evening. Stay tuned for another blog post on the post concert chat…

3 Responses to “Connections: Rossini, Mozart and Tchaikovsky – Doug Bauman”

  1. Hey Doug,
    I just came across your blog and I’m eager to explore it further in the future.
    I’ve listened to the 4th,5th, and 6th Tschaikovsky symphonies quite a number of times, but I’ve never listened to the 3rd. I always heard that it wasn’t as high quality – now I’m excited to listen to it for myself and see what I think of it.

  2. Doug Bauman says:

    Will you be going to the PSO this evening?
    Either way, I hope you like the 3rd.

  3. William Ford says:

    Here is my review of the concert as published at wefworld.blogspot.com:
    The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concert on March was in two words, nearly perfect. There is nothing quite like sitting in the sumptuous Heinz Hall for Performing Arts listening to wonderful classical music.
    But first- prior to the start of the concert, a 16-year old young woman, Elenora Pertz, gave a recital in the Grand Lobby. She was sponsored by the Steinway Society of Western Pennsylvania. Her program contained works by Scarlatti, Chopin, and Haydn. The two Chopin Nocturnes were particularly beautiful. Ms. Pertz performed them admirably and it was apparent that she deeply felt the music.
    The PSO program included:
    ________________________________________
    Gianandrea Noseda, conductor
    Benjamin Hochman, piano
    ________________________________________
    Gioachino Rossini: Overture to La Cenerentola
    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 19, K. 459
    Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 3, “Polish”
    The Rossini overture is, well, so Rossini. The orchestra played it flawlessly. It’s not particularly memorable but it’s enjoyable enough. I really began to appreciate the artistry of the PSO, as well as the talent of Hochman, in the Mozart piano concerto. This is not a frequently heard concerto, so I did not have any history with it. Both the orchestra and the soloist played elegantly. The balances between the two were impeccable, especially when a theme is tossed back and forth between them. The orchestra plays with incredible precision. It seemed at times as though three different woodwinds were being played simultaneously by the same person, rather than by three different musicians. The audience gave repeated curtain calls for Hochman, Noseda, and the orchestra.
    During intermission, I met Hochman, who was in the Grand Lobby signing autographs. I now have another to add to my collection.
    The real treat of the evening was the Tchaikovsky Third Symphony, subtitled “Polish”, although that was a name attached by the published rather than the composer. The final movement is marked “Tempo di pollacca,” or polka, but it bears no resemblance to actual Polish music. The first of the three Tchaikovsky symphonies are not performed nearly as much as his final three. The first three are obviously less mature, but they also don’t show the composer’s emotional state nearly as much as the final three do. Because of his depression, Tchaikovsky’s final symphonies are full of despair and sadness. But, that cannot be said of his Third. It is bright, melodic, balletic, and colorful. Tchaikovsky’s symphonies do not have a lot of melodic development as one might find in the works of the classic and early romantic periods, such as Mozart and Beethoven. In fact, Beethoven could take a few notes and build a whole movement around them by changing the key, inverting the notes, embellishing the theme, and so on. Tchaikovsky on the other hand created more fully developed melodies and built a movement around having the melody picked up by the various sections of the orchestra, and adding various types of accompaniment. He frequently used the woodwinds, for example, to provide ascending and descending runs behind the melody. But the melody remained paramount. The Third is so full of melody and wonderful orchestration that structure is less important. This symphony is in five movements, rather than the traditional four. The PSO played this music with great aplomb, for example, the end of the third movement, the composer included some of the most piano of pianissimos. This includes plucked strings and French horns. This section was played with such skill that the sound never wavered and even the horns remained smooth and controlled. Throughout the work, the trombones sounded polished and never shrill or piercing. The strings had great ensemble, and played with precision. As noted above, the winds played so accurately that I find it hard to believe that there are multiple musicians involved. Tchaikovsky’s music was so brilliantly and confidently played that the PSO and Noseda received at least four curtain calls.
    Heinz Hall plays a role in the PSO’s sound. I sat near the rear of the orchestra section and it was apparent to me that the hall’s reverberation did not blur the sound, and it is not so dry that the brass, for example, sound cold or harsh.
    Kudos, however, must be given to Gianandrea Noseda. He is a tall man in his mid-40s and he connected well with the orchestra. During the curtain calls, they refused his invitation to stand and they too applauded Noseda. His conducting style is interesting. Because of his height, he seems to reach over the orchestra, providing the beat as well as direction to the players. He has long fingers that seem flexible, almost as if he had no bones in them. The last time I saw such hands were those of the legendary Leopold Stokowki, who was a great showman when he conducted. Noseda’s interpretations seemed right on the mark, even if I thought that the tempo in the second movement of the Tchaikovsky was a bit fast. But that is such a small quibble. It was a great pleasure hearing this concert. Noseda and Hochman have great futures, given their ages and talents. The PSO never fails to impress.

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Mar 13