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Symphony to record Brahms concerts |

Symphony to record Brahms concerts

Mark Kanny
| Thursday, March 1, 2007 12:00 a.m

After a seven-year hiatus, the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra are primed to begin commercial recording again, starting with this weekend’s concerts featuring the music of Johannes Brahms.

The concerts, featuring endowed guest conductor Marek Janowski with the orchestra will be recorded by the Dutch company PentaTone. The project, which will include Brahms’ four symphonies, will continue the following weekend and will be concluded over two November weekends of concerts.

This weekend’s concerts will include Brahms’ Haydn Variations and Second Symphony, along with the Third Violin Concerto by Camille Saint-Saens with Chee-Yun as soloist.

Janowski, who was unavailable for comment, recorded the Brahms cycle 20 years ago with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. The Pittsburgh Symphony recorded the Brahms cycle 40 years ago under music director William Steinberg.

“I think the whole orchestra is very excited to be recording again. Everyone knows it’s been a long time since we had a recording come out. I think more importantly, the orchestra is very healthy playing-wise and emotionally,” principal horn Bill Caballero says.

“I think it’s such a shame we didn’t record (more) with Jansons because the orchestra was playing at such a great level. It’s a lost opportunity,” principal clarinet Michael Rusinek says.

“What I love about Brahms is how the parts fit together, as opposed to Mahler, which can be so much fun, but it’s easy to get lost in the texture. In Brahms each voice is clear, yet fits in so well together,” he says.

The upcoming recordings are a huge boost to orchestra’s morale, principal oboe Cynthia DeAlmeida says, adding that Janowski is “a great musician and a great orchestra conductor.” She’s also a fan of concert recordings because they can catch an orchestra “when it’s really on.”

Jeffrey Turner, principal bass, says recording Brahms is “a great opportunity to show our strength. We are still basically a Germanic orchestra. Our best traditions — of sound, of style, of approach — come from that. Once you get into this orchestra, the things that seep in are from the traditions that linger from players who may have been long gone.”

Violist Paul Silver joined the orchestra in 1981 and recorded with music directors Andre Previn, Lorin Maazel and Mariss Jansons.

“Maazel always talked about the dark burnished quality of our orchestra,” Silver says.

The Brahms that Silver says he always remembers was the Second Symphony on tour with Jansons in the Musikverein in Vienna.

“It was one of those concerts that felt absolutely right. The second theme in the first movement, of cellos and violas playing in thirds, was such a gorgeous sound. I remember looking down at the floor and thought about Brahms conducting this piece there.”

A devoted chamber musician, Silver refers to the string sextets and quintets of Brahms in discussing the composer’s distinctive sonorities.

“Some people think when you see a painting with a lot of light colors, you can see all the layers and brush strokes, and you can. But when it’s dark and rich with Brahms and you still see all those layers, it makes it such a full complex sound that is just fantastic.”

Job Maarse is a happy man. The head of artists and repertoire for PentaTone and its technical team is scheduled to be in Pittsburgh for his company’s first recording of a major American orchestra.

PentaTone was founded in 2001, and has issued more than 100 titles. Maarse, who previously worked in Europe for Sony Classical and Philips, says “I’m not getting rich, but this is the most fun thing I’ve done in my life.”

He says the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra “has always been one of my favorite American orchestras, and has a beautiful sound in German repertoire.”

PentaTone uses an “umbrella” of five microphones, Maarse says, with three pointed toward the orchestra and two facing toward the hall for ambient sound.

Maarse says at least 95 percent of the sound on the finished CDs will come from the umbrella, supplemented if necessary by support mikes that might, for example, bring out the woodwinds a little more.

Additional Information:

‘Janowski and Brahms’

Featuring: Chee-Yun, violin; Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Marek Janowski, conductor

When: 8 p.m. Friday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $17-$72

Where: Heinz Hall, Sixth Street and Penn Avenue, Downtown

Details: 412-392-4900 or

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