Arriving early to Heinz Hall for a Grand Classics concert has its advantages. Two young gentlemen perform solo piano in the grand lobby before the show; their recital of various selections, like Grieg’s ‘Wedding Day at Troldhaugen’, played by Jonah Berger, and Ernesto LeCuona’s ‘Malaguena’ played by Nathan Pallotta, were truly amazing.
After the concert I spoke to Helen, a very friendly patron with a very cheerful disposition. Being another Pittsburgh Symphony subscriber who sits near me, we speak often. She told me that before each concert she goes to youtube and listens to some of the particular selections to be played that evening, in order to familiarize herself to the music and to get a feel for what’s about to be played. I’ve done that myself, and since I blog, I find I do so even more after the concert, to remind myself of what I’ve heard, and to give a degree of inspiration and recollection while I’m writing.
Tonight for the program, we are treated to Yefim Bronfman performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor”. Mr. Bronfman never missed a note, every inflection was perfect. Some of the softer sections of the 1st movement are uniquely ‘heavenly’ in their effect upon my being. For instance, about 6 minutes from the start the fingers on the keyboard do a mad rush from left to right, and spurred on by pizzicato and cellos in the background, slow down and begin a soft and gently flowing vibe, coyly trickling over the keys like a slowly meandering stream in the midst of a demure forest. This is followed by the strings transitioning again to the dramatic in a metamorphosis only Beethoven can fluidly achieve as if no alteration had occurred at all. It happens again at about 15 minutes into this selection.
I prefer the softer, more subtle sections when every key harmonic of the piano can be perceived. During the second movement, we here a much more prolonged and deliriously prescient melody rapturously rendering tones that evoke the following words to me:
There’s a place for us,
a perfect space for us,
Where love grows,
my heart shows,
yet she knows,
where our blossom grows.
The transition from the second to third movement of this concerto shows Beethoven’s more playful nature. He playfully hints at the sequence to follow, as if a practice or warm up, and then brings it forth in it’s totality. This movement, like the first, shows the ‘Allegro’ full bodied feature of the piano and the orchestra as an amalgamation.
During the second half of the program, Manfred Honeck tells us: “Happy Thanksgiving, it’s great to be back, from our fantastic tour of Europe.” He introduced
the ‘Ice Skating’ polka and led 4 of the PSO kids along the stage with their skates.
Honeck: “What wonderful joy in peoples’ faces; we’ll catch up with the kids later.’
Mr. Honeck spent much time introducing ‘On the Beautiful Blue Danube’ which must have been a personal favorite of his: “This waltz is so perfectly Vienese, a romance, ideal for dancing” and spoke to to Jim Cunningham in the audience: “you will play it too? on WQED? I will call you.”
I’m a big fan of the Austrian waltz program presented by the PSO every year. On the program this year are many selections with which I am not familiar. It’s fortunate that Manfred Honeck and the PSO bring new material all the time. I particularly liked ‘Eine Nacht in Venedig’, ‘Moulinet’, ‘Telefon-Polka’ in which the actual cell-phones were ringing near the end, in true comedic form, and ‘Unter Donner und Blitz’ with umbrellas revealed, selections composed by Johann Strauss, Jr., Josef Strauss and Eduard Strauss.
Baritone Gregg Baker seemingly stole the second half of the show with his wonderful renditions of a few Franz Lehar songs, and ‘Moon River’ by Henry Mancini. However, it was his encore of ‘Old Man River’ that almost literally brought down the house with a standing ovation and thunderous applause. What a voice!