Recordings Allow Masterful PSO Artists to Shine; A Great Orchestra Is More Than a Collection of Great Musicians. Although It Must Be Flexible to the Styles of the Various Pieces It Plays and the Personalities of the Conductors on the Podium, Great Orchestras Do Have Collective Personalities and Traditions. [Derived Headline]

By Kanny, Mark | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 28, 2016 | Go to article overview

Recordings Allow Masterful PSO Artists to Shine; A Great Orchestra Is More Than a Collection of Great Musicians. Although It Must Be Flexible to the Styles of the Various Pieces It Plays and the Personalities of the Conductors on the Podium, Great Orchestras Do Have Collective Personalities and Traditions. [Derived Headline]


Kanny, Mark, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


A great orchestra is more than a collection of great musicians. Although it must be flexible to the styles of the various pieces it plays and the personalities of the conductors on the podium, great orchestras do have collective personalities and traditions.

Yet, it's also true that when listening to orchestral music, the contributions of individual players can make all the difference. Certainly at Pittsburgh Symphony concerts this season, Cynthia DeAlmeida's oboe solos in Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, Anne Martindale Williams' cello solos in the slow movement of Johannes Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2 with Emanuel Ax and Michael Rusinek soloing in Carl Maria von Weber's Clarinet Concerto No. 1 all left one wanting to hear more from those artists.

Many symphony musicians are active in the local chamber music scene, in which they can be heard at greater length than a 45- second orchestral solo. In addition, the musicians' tonal qualities can be heard much more fully in smaller concert spaces than in the vastness of Heinz Hall.

But all concerts are ephemeral. That's one reason why the surprisingly numerous recordings by symphony musicians are worth exploring.

'Silver and Gold'

DeAlmeida's newest album, "Silver and Gold," has garnered favorable reviews. The March issue of Fanfare magazine declared, "This gentle, unassuming album is wish list material, so completely does it exhibit the humanistic qualities so essential to our musical culture."

For DeAlmeida, one of the joys of making the CD was working with symphony colleagues Noah Bendix-Balgley, Meng Wang, William Caballero and David Premo, as well as pianists Marina Schmidt Lupinacci and Rodrigo Ojeda. But there are many tedious aspects to making a recording, and the project took five years to complete.

"After my second CD, I said I'm never going to do this again -- way too much work," she says. "But you find music that is incredible and you want to record it because it's never been recorded or because you have an affinity for it. When recording chamber music or solo with piano you can choose the repertoire, you can choose the tempi, and you can choose the interpretations -- and that's very different from orchestral playing."

Her CD is the first recording of the Oboe Sonata in B minor by Alexander Wunderer, who was principal oboe of the Vienna Philharmonic for 37 years. She says the slow movement is so beautiful she may want it played at her funeral.

'Genetic Harps'

Riccardo Schulz, teaching professor and director of recording activities at Carnegie Mellon, has been involved in most of the symphony musicians' CDs, including "Silver and Gold." He's edited Pittsburgh Opera radio broadcasts since 1987 and Pittsburgh Symphony radio broadcasts for eight years.

"My overall philosophy is less is more," Schulz says. "The least complicated set of microphones always turns out, to me, to be the best."

Yet circumstances from the acoustics of the recording space to the schedules of the artists force the use of more sophisticated techniques, including overlaying musicians recorded at separate times. That was the case with the final track of "Genetic Harps," which features the symphony's principal harp Gretchen Van Hoesen and her daughter, Heidi Van Hoesen Gorton, who is principal harp of the Toronto Symphony.

Most of "Genetic Harps" was recorded in the family living room by husband, father and retired co-principal oboe James Gorton. Schulz recorded the arrangement of Darius Milhaud's "Brasiliera" for four harps at Carnegie Mellon. Gorton recorded two of the parts, separately, and returned to Toronto before her mother came into the studio to lay down the other two tracks.

'Trio Pittsburgh'

Van Hoesen's newest CD is "Trio Pittsburgh, music for Harp, Violin and Cello," on which she's joined by Bendix-Balgley and Williams.

The symphony's harpist says she is motivated to make CDs by her "passion for trying to showcase the harp because so many people don't know it, and I want to show people what it's capable of. …

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Recordings Allow Masterful PSO Artists to Shine; A Great Orchestra Is More Than a Collection of Great Musicians. Although It Must Be Flexible to the Styles of the Various Pieces It Plays and the Personalities of the Conductors on the Podium, Great Orchestras Do Have Collective Personalities and Traditions. [Derived Headline]
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