Concert Review

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons Rossini Overture, The Silken Ladder. Beethoven Symphony No. 4 in B flat, Op. 60. Stravinsky the Rite of Spring. Barbican, 2 June 2000 (CC)

 This was a programme designed to show off the virtuoso strengths of the Pittsburghers. A scaled-down orchestra delighted the audience with its glittery Rossini, the scoring suiting the orchestra's bright sound well. The immaculate ensemble of the upper strings in the fast scalic passages, the eloquently phrased oboe solos of the introduction and some wonderfully pointed wind playing made this an opener that fizzed with ebullience.

Perhaps the Beethoven was less of a good idea. For this, Jansons reinstated the full complement of strings (including no less than eight double basses!). Far from inspiring some good old Beethovenian drama, his relentless approach consistently detracted from the harmonic processes of the first movement. There was a large 'no lingering' sign over the Adagio, and a conspicuous lack of joy throughout. Only the wind soloists seemed intent on injecting character into this piece, but in the end this often sunny symphony emerged somewhat overcast.

The 'Rite of Spring' is an orchestral showpiece without parallel, and London has been blessed with more than its fair share of performances of late. The orchestra clearly revelled in its challenges (although the time is long passed when this was an Everest of the repertoire), but a couple of things jarred. It would appear that, while multiple time signatures flying by at speed pose no problem, mystery and atmosphere do. There is contrast in 'The Rite', and plenty of it - the 'Mystic Circles of the young Girls', for example, needed to be more sensuous. Perhaps this explains why the 'Ritual of the Ancestors', so vital to the preparation of the 'Sacrificial Dance', and here so lacklustre, effectively scuppered the finale.

Paradoxically, Jansons seemed infinitely more alive to the powerfully cumulative superimposition techiques of the Dance of the Earth.There is no doubting the Pittsburgh's commitment and virtuosity. That they have an infectious sense of fun was obvious from their Rossini and their Rosenkavalier Waltzes encore. Perhaps with a deeper thinker at their helm they could rise to the first rank of the American orchestras.

Colin Clarke

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