The Pittsburgh Symphony last performed in Philadelphia in 1976 and they were back last week at the Mann Center for nothing less than a triumphal return for an evening of Beethoven. PSO immediately stated their musical authority in their Egmont opening, with strings that just retooled the acoustics at the open air Mann Center, which has more than one traveling wormhole. When the humidity is high, as it was on this night, there can be string haze and wayward horns, but if conditions were not ideal for these musicians, they weren’t showing it. PSO looked smaller on the Mann stage, than the home team, but size isn’t everything and this orchestra carved a huge, cohesive and sustained sound. Egmont was instantly vibrant, the strings just sliced through the air with power and dimension and the horn heralds had such dramatic impact. Conductor Arild Remmreit wanted to be inside the subtleness of Beethoven, not rely on the classical theatricality alone, his pacing thrilling and the fanfares built on a humming orchestral drive.
The exuberance was tamped down for soloist Teo Gheorghui, the Swiss-Canadian 19-year old studying at the Curtis Institute in Philly with Gary Graffman. His entry into the Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 seemed too soft, tentative, as opposed to subtle and for some of the 1st movement seemed detached from the orchestra, with one or two vaporous hand-offs. But, presently, he was just fully engaged, past virtuosity and with luminous interpretative skill. He completely entranced with his encore of a piano transcription, Fritz Keistler‘s Lebenstand, in an altogether magical performance, so filled with artistry and humanity.
But, the marquee draw of this concert was Beethoven’s Symphony No 5 and PSO delivered nothing less than its metaphysical and visceral power. Easy to anticipate the symphony’s theatricality, but Remmreit illuminated the many aspects of it that are easily missed by its grandeur.
Maestro Remmrelt didn’t have to rely on the 5th known profundity, he gave it all the organic transcendence that puts it on a category of its own. Beethoven hanging in the sultry air under a hazy moon with the city skyline glittering in the distance made this a magical night in Philly. Remmreit looked exhausted at the end of it and as he moved through the orchestra to present each section, the applause was lusty and expressing warm appreciation that the Pittsburgh Symphony was back in town. .