Review: Tortelier gives powerful voice to composers; Benedetti makes impressive debut |

Review: Tortelier gives powerful voice to composers; Benedetti makes impressive debut

Mark Kanny

The compelling voice of four distinctive composers was conveyed with flair and precision this afternoon by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and guest conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier.

Joan Tower’s dramatic “Tambor” (Drum) opened the concert. She’s the symphony’s composer of the year and gave an excellent and succinct spoken introduction to her music, noting as usual that she has the distinction of being a living composer.

Yesterday’s performance was the first of three this week, but the symphony actually has considerable experience with this piece. Mariss Jansons and the Pittsburgh Symphony commissioned “Tambor” and gave the world premiere in 1998. Tortelier conducted it in June 2004 during a meeting of the American Symphony Orchestra League.

Tortelier led a decisive and persuasive performance yesterday at Heinz Hall. The power of the orchestra, its forceful rhythmic energy and some beautiful non-percussion solos were impressive. The percussion section played with superb definition and wide dynamic range.

Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti made an impressive debut with the orchestra, playing two French pieces that could hardly be more contrasted. Benedetti draws an exceptionally rich and full-bodied sound from her Stradivarius instrument. Her vibrato was ample without being excessive, and her bowing has character.

Nevertheless, in Ernest Chausson’s “Poeme,” her inwardness was so in the moment her solos felt fragmented, leaving it to Tortelier and the orchestra to create sweeping feelings.

Maurice Ravel’s “Tzigane” was much more successful. The Gypsy lyricism prompted a fine long line in lyrical passages, while Benedetti’s virtuosity in faster passages was properly breathtaking.

After intermission, Tortelier turned to Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird,” leading a performance of the 1945 suite.

“The Firebird” was Stravinsky’s first big success, written with luxurious Russian late Romanticism but first performed in Paris in 1910. The original score is for huge orchestra. When Stravinsky revised the ballet in 1945 for smaller orchestra, he also revised the suite. He included more music from the ballet than a suite he had made in 1919, which more than compensates for the smaller size of the orchestra.

Tortelier led a magnificent Stravinsky performance. It was full of individual touches, such as nuances in the string accompaniment to William Caballero’s luscious horn solo.

Performances continue at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Admission: $12.50 to $93. Details: 412-392-4900 or

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