AN ALL-Tchaikovsky program benefiting the Philharmonic musicians pension fund brought out a big midweek crowd to Kleinhans Music Hall -- a crowd that, if the huge ovation and departing excitement were any indication, took a touch of joy back to life in the trenches, the kind of feeling you get from love, religion or inspired art.
In this case it was the performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto by Siberian-born violinist Maxim Vengerov -- playing that was so absolutely convincing in its passion, technical execution and emotional logic that one could easily, even gladly, overlook big-picture questions of balance, ensemble and interpretation. Those questions were about musical personalities mainly: the romantic, firebrand musicality of Vengerov and the more elegant, balanced maturity of conductor Maximiano Valdes in an exciting but uneasy collaboration.
Vengerov's instinct is to wring every possible drop of musical expression out of every note and phrase. This he does brilliantly and relentlessly. He packs more feeling into the introductory roulade before the principal theme than most violinists find in the whole concerto, with a lingering here, a little push there, a whisper, a shout. He plays the cadenza like a great actor, measuring the tensions of the double stops, dramatic pauses, dynamic contrasts. It works because he believes it and the style allows it. Also, because he has the technique to pull it off and his Stradivarius sounds gorgeous.
Valdes is more conservative here, with a measured, controlled approach. At some points in the first movement he seems confused by all the emotion, and will not buy in with a reflecting orchestral response. The second movement is more consistent, with a lovely muted floating plaint from the violin, echoing woodwinds twining and elastic phrasing all around. Then the explosion into the finale -- a Russian gypsy whirlwind, Vengerov taking off like a banshee, the orchestra playing catch-up; Vengerov playing it coarse, Valdes playing it cool.
A compromise might have been been the performance of the century, with the violinist focusing the fire, the conductor breaking a sweat. Even as it was, very hot stuff indeed.
The orchestra opened with the moody Fifth Symphony of Tchaikovsky, the "fate" motto permeating, struggling from somber clarinet introduction to major-key reincarnation in the finale. With its pretty but cloying second movement and fine French horn solo, it built majestically to its marching final chords.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Maximiano Valdes, conductor, with soloist Maxim Vengerov, violin.
BPO Musicians Pension Fund benefit concert.
Wednesday evening in Kleinhans Music Hall.