We are used to bombastic, romantic music at Kleinhans Music Hall. But this weekend’s Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concert really goes over the edge.
The pianist was, literally, on a roll. How often do you get to say that?
And the conductor did the Chicken Dance.
The Chicken Dance happened in Moussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” orchestrated by Maurice Ravel. As she led the way through the “Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks,” BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta briefly struck the Chicken Dance pose, conducting with her elbows. Was that unconscious? In Buffalo, you have to wonder.
The pianist on a roll was Alain Lefevre, an impassioned soloist from Quebec.
Lefevre wore tails, even for a morning concert. He was in the middle of the fevered first movement of the Piano Concerto No. 4 of Andre Mathieu, a prodigy who was praised by Rachmaninoff and died young, when the piano began sliding away from him. Lefevre pulled it back, shaking his head in an expression of Gallic exasperation. It happened again. And again.
The wheels had not been secured, and so the instrument was rolling.
You would think someone would have been on top of the situation. But no one was, so at the end of the first movement, as the audience was applauding him, Lefevre got up and tapped Falletta on the shoulder. He explained to her – and then, good-naturedly, to the audience – what the problem was. Techies came out on stage and, in effect, put the brakes on the piano.
That episode will not repeat tonight. But I think we’ll have the same sense of freewheeling fun.
The concert begins with Aaron Copland’s “Dance Symphony.” The BPO has not played this since Copland conducted it himself, in 1968.
I am not sure I would have paired this piece with the Mathieu concerto. Though their spirits are very different, both of them are full of capricious and often abstract themes. But it’s fascinating to hear the Copland live, to enjoy the pop and rattle of the percussion, the blasts from the brass, like car horns. The woodwinds’ sharp harmonies bit at you in the brightness.
The Mathieu was also in your face, but in a different way.
Mathieu sketched out this concerto when he was a teenager, and scholars completed it after his death.
You can tell it is the work of someone young. Romantic to a fault, it has lots of fire and crash, and it never stays in the same place for long. “Spastic” was the word one knowledgeable listener used.
From its first bars, it sounds like Rachmaninoff. Sometimes, it even sounded like specific Rachmaninoff pieces. Lefevre threw himself into the music, pushing his hair back, then flipping his tails over the bench.
It got almost comical, because the music, while promising, is not worth all the sweat. There were moments of dazzle.
Lefevre’s flawless technique, a delight to witness, brought out that the piano writing was complex and interesting.
But the music lacks a natural ebb and flow. It has beauty, but it changes pace constantly, throwing new things at you. You think it is ending when it is not. God knows how Lefevre memorized it.
It was worth hearing, whatever its flaws. While I do not think the concerto deserves a place in the repertoire, other of Mathieu’s pieces might.
“Pictures at an Exhibition” closed the concert with style. The brass was pure and sparkling.
Falletta and the orchestra shaped the phrases with impressive care, allowing you to savor Ravel’s creative orchestration. It was all clear and sculpted: a flurry of cellos, the bird song of the flute, the crash of the percussion, the guttural tuba. (It’s not often the spotlight shoots to Don Harry, a legend in the tuba world.)
“The Great Gates of Kiev,” building to unbelievable waves of volume, brought the concert to an end with a crash of cymbals.
The fun repeats today at 8 p.m. at Kleinhans Music Hall.