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Concert Review

Buffalo Philharmonic offers polished yet grounded performances at Kravis

Mon Feb 08, 2016 at 1:50 pm

By Dave Rosenbaum

Chloe Hanslip performed Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Sunday at the Kravis Center.

Chloe Hanslip performed Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Sunday at the Kravis Center.

Shared encores are rare after concertos, especially showpieces like Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

Yet it was entirely appropriate that when 28-year-old British violinist Chloe Hanslip returned to the stage for her encore Sunday afternoon at the Kravis Center, she was joined by recently appointed Buffalo Philharmonic concertmaster Dennis Kim for Jean-Marie LeClair’s Sonata for Two Violins. For the previous 35 minutes, the performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto had been less a display of Hanslip’s virtuosity than a pairing of soloist and orchestra to synergetic effect.

Hanslip never attempted to grab the spotlight in the Tchaikovsky, as if she preferred to be a part of the orchestra rather than apart from it. Buffalo Philharmonic Music Director JoAnn Falletta exercised equal restraint with the orchestra, willing to let the young soloist gallop away with this oft-played audience favorite filled with soaring, heroic melodies.

But Hanslip didn’t take the reins. Her reading was by turns elegant, pastoral and folksy, for better and for worse. What it offered in nuance it lacked in excitement. Performances of the Tchaikovsky concerto can be over-the-top but Hanslip’s was too grounded. Somewhere in the middle would have been more satisfying.

Hanslip’s deep tone and fine sense of pacing brought elegance to the opening melody. Her tone turned silvery during the heroic second theme, which in her hands was an exercise in mature restraint. This restraint was especially apparent in the finale, which can often sound like a race to the finish but here sounded more like a Russian dance.

Falletta’s forces caressed Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous score with silvery, shimmery violins and violas, deep, authoritative cellos and bass and clear, full tone from the winds and horns. Entrances were spotless. The Tchaikovsky concerto places considerable demands on the orchestra as well as the soloist, and the players were up to them.

JoAnn Falletta

JoAnn Falletta

A lack of interpretative flair was evident in the second half of the program, a straightforward, almost metronomic reading of Brahms’ Symphony No. 2. This is the most lighthearted of Brahms’ four symphonies, a weekend in the country compared to the steely seriousness of the other three, but this rendition sounded as if Brahms had decided to wear a grey wool suit for his Sunday outing.

The Buffalo Philharmonic is a fine regional orchestra with a top-tier string section, yet in the Brahms, the overall effect was less than the sum of its parts, lacking in lyrical and pastoral beauty. Apart from a few early missteps by the lower brass, the overall playing was fine, but this most-bucolic of Brahms’ symphonies sounded even less pastoral than the Tchaikovsky concerto.

That’s not to say the symphony doesn’t have its moody and dramatic moments. But this performance was painted with one brush, far too serious and assured with little playfulness and tranquility.

Things picked up for the encore, a spirited rendition of Mikhail Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture.

The Regional Arts Series continues 7:30 p.m. February 23 at the Kravis Center with Stephane Deneve conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in works by Prokofiev and Dvorak with James Ehnes as soloist in Sibelius’ Violin Concerto. kravis.org.

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