Buffalo Philharmonic delivers rich-toned performances of Russian favorites

By Lawrence Budmen

JoAnn Falletta led the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in a program of Russian favorites Friday night at the Parker Playhouse

A nearly full house packed the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale Friday night for a program of tried-and-true Russian favorites by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under music director JoAnn Falletta.

In spite of the challenging acoustics of the venue, the concert proved a considerable artistic success for which credit must go to Falletta, a vigorous conductor and strong musical personality. The orchestra’s rich, full string tone—sounding more Central European than American—is its greatest asset and Falletta exploits it to maximum effect.

Michael Ludwig

Michael Ludwig

Concertmaster Michael Ludwig was soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. Although the concerto is an overplayed warhorse, Ludwig’s performance was anything but hackneyed. Former associate concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Ludwig has glistening tone and technique to burn. He was unafraid to bend a phrase or to slow down in order to bring potent emotion to the music, particularly in the first movement.

His was an old-fashioned, personalized interpretation rather than the literal performances so common today. Eschewing the use of a mute, Ludwig richly probed the aura of Russian sadness that pervades the Canzonetta. He brought plenty of bravura flair to the finale, offered in its original, uncut form. That may have been too much of a good thing, with the constant repetitions making the movement overlong. Falletta was an attentive accompanist, drawing lively playing from the ensemble, a few wind burbles in the first movement, apart.

As an encore, Ludwig gave a beautiful performance of the Meditation from Massenet’s opera Thais, the dark sound of his Storioni instrument lending depth to the flowing lyric line. The hall’s acoustic rendered the prominent harp accompaniment distant and lacking in definition.

Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2┬ácan seem interminable in less inspired performances but Falletta led a taut, intense reading in the no-nonsense Russian manner. The beautifully spun string motifs of the introduction were a prelude to a brisk ride through the opening movement, Ludwig’s suave violin solo taking pride of place. The gorgeous, mahogany-toned lower strings had a field day in Rachmaninoff’s hefty romantic melodies.

A crisply articulated Allegro molto with plenty of brassy bite brought the orchestra’s strong horn section into the spotlight. In the Adagio, Falletta distilled heart-on-sleeve sentiment, giving the luminous strings full rein with John Fullam’s evocative clarinet solo also shining brightly.

Exuding martial vigor in the finale, Falletta also brought maximum expressive impact to the movement’s second subject. The precise articulation of the strings in the late fugal passages prefaced the final full orchestral salvo, delivered with visceral impact. Falletta managed to draw a sizable sound from the full ensemble, enhancing an exciting performance. Hopefully next time this gifted conductor will offer some of the contemporary works and Romantic rarities that have won her acclaim rather than rehashing repertoire staples.

The handsome Parker Playhouse is an acoustically problematic venue for orchestral concerts. With a proscenium stage and heavy curtains, the sound tends to become diffuse. While instruments at the front of the stage have reasonably good presence, those further back sound more distant and the ensemble sonority does not blend as well as in a more reverberant hall. The hall’s dry sound also exacerbates minor instrumental glitches. Perhaps an acoustical shell would give the sound a more live quality.

If the Broward Center is going to present classical performances at the Parker (and they have scheduled the Cape Town Philharmonic there for next season), the management should investigate acoustical improvements so artists can be heard at their best.

Posted in Performances, Uncategorized

One Response to “Buffalo Philharmonic delivers rich-toned performances of Russian favorites”

  1. Posted Mar 13, 2010 at 3:43 pm by Hanford Searl Jr.

    … Bravo BPO!!! We’re PROUD-of-YOU here in thee Bflo./Niagara region! Was 60+ desgrees Fri. in WNY, so HURRY back!?! Keep playin’ PRETTY at the REST of-your-STOPS! Take CARE!…

    -Hanford Searl Jr.
    Bflo. Gay Men’s Chorus & Westminster Presbyterian Church Choir

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Sat Mar 13, 2010
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