A marvelous concert is taking place this weekend in Kleinhans Music Hall. It’s called “Hungarian Spirit.” And as the concert’s centerpiece, Michael Ludwig, the concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, is performing “Violin Concerto in A Minor” by Karl Goldmark.
Few people know this concerto. It has not been heard in Buffalo since Josef Krips conducted it, with Nathan Milstein as soloist, in the 1950s. And Ludwig, we’re used to seeing him on stage, leading the violin section.
But seriously. The performance Saturday night was amazing.
If Ludwig were a big-name visiting soloist and you paid big money to hear him, you would be crowing and telling your friends. He’s a terrific violinist. He did a bang-up job with the Goldmark, which is a virtuosic, romantic delight from the word go. His playing had strength and style, from the dips into the low ranges of the instrument to the whistley high treble.
In person, Ludwig seems on the shy side. As he soared through this concerto, he became a different person. At one climactic moment in the first movement, as the orchestra billowed around him, he leaned backwards, the violin overhead, the music just pouring out of him. A first-movement cadenza was stunning, assertively played, with the kind of rhythm that has you holding your breath. At the end of the first movement, by the way, everyone just said the heck with it and cheered.
The rhapsodic slow movement was lovely, with Ludwig playing rhapsodic legato lines. The orchestra, led by Music Director JoAnn Falletta, supported him with grace. The last movement saw Ludwig’s bow flying practically nonstop. As we neared the end, the music seemed to tip over the edge. I wonder if this influenced Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Before the last notes were through, the crowd jumped up as one and began applauding and yelling “Bravo!” Ludwig took multiple curtain calls and then gave us a flashy encore, Vittorio Monti’s “Czardas.” It’s a famous violin encore piece, a gypsy song, and Ludwig reveled in its gypsy rhythms. What a night for Ludwig. He was on fire.
The rest of the concert was also gripping. The evening opened with Zoltan Kodaly’s “Variations on a Hungarian Folk Song (The Peacock).” It’s hard to follow the variations if you’re new to it, but it will entertain you. Principal flutist Christine Bailey stood out, as did many other musicians.
The Suite from Bela Bartok’s “The Miraculous Mandarin” was a riot of color and crashing excitement. I would like to see this ballet sometime. I cannot imagine what spectacle would do justice to this riot of sound. At its apex, it’s amazing to look on the orchestra, all the musicians going full tilt all at once. Kids would like this concert. There is so much going on.
Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” ended the night. It’s better known as a piano piece, but Ludwig’s orchestration of it is rich and witty, full of chirps and jingles. This sensuous, commanding music must have inspired Johann Strauss. Principal Clarinetist John Fullam gave it a lot of finesse, with his flourishes and fine sense of timing. It ended in a blaze of glory.
Catch this concert if you can. It repeats at Kleinhans today at 2:30 p.m.