Michael Ludwig, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s departing concertmaster, is making kind of a swan song this weekend. Ludwig, who is leaving after this season to pursue a solo career, is stepping into the limelight with the Violin Concerto of Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
This is a glorious concerto. Korngold wove into it an array of his movie themes, written for elaborate costume dramas starring the likes of Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis. Ludwig played it Friday with real dash, in the first of three performances this weekend. The concerto brings 1930s Hollywood to life as no coffee table book could.
And could it be that Ludwig had an extra spring in his step? He always is a superb violinist. But he seemed to have an extra buoyancy, which I take to be that lighthearted feeling you get when you have quit your job. He didn’t merely play this concerto – he just about danced it.
The entire concert, conducted by BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta, is a gem. It culminates with Schumann’s grand, luminous “Rhenish” Symphony, a joy every step of the journey. And it begins with a sleeper hit, the BPO premiere of Anton Webern’s “Im Sommerwind.”
“Im Sommerwind” means “In the Summer Wind,” and the 16-minute piece begins as if out of the air. There are whispering, gentle touches – the soft chirp of a flute, the barely audible jingle of the triangle, a high treble trill in the hands of Amy Glidden, the associate concertmaster. The music wraps around you.
Just like a summer day, you don’t have to overanalyze it, you just have to bask in it. It ended incredibly, tapering off into silence. Falletta’s hand froze midair, holding off the applause. What a lovely start to the concert.
The Korngold concerto, too, seemed to appear from out of the air. The soloist and the orchestra both begin at the same instant, which can be tough to pull off, but they did it. Ludwig’s tone, from the top, was honeyed and burnished.
He played from a score, which I didn’t mind. He hardly had time to glance at it anyway. His nonstop virtuosity matched the music’s swashbuckling boldness. There were enchanting interludes when he sailed to the heights and stayed there, his high treble tone almost a whisper.
Maybe it’s his newfound freedom, but he moved more with the music, stepping sideways this way and that, almost as if he were waltzing. His knees bent. His energy was infectious. The orchestra, too, rose to the challenge of this piece. The color changed on a dime, and melodies bounced from section to section with lightning precision. The piece ended in a flurry of crazy sound effects suggesting armies, horses, knights and ladies. The crowd – big for a Coffee Concert – rose and cheered.
I have one suggestion. In the morning you can make a case for business casual. But tonight and Sunday’s performances, I think, call for traditional concert finery for all involved, soloist included. This is music of Hollywood’s golden age. Rise to meet it.
Schumann’s “Rhenish” symphony was a good chaser to that heady excitement. Scholars say Schumann was inspired in the breathtaking finale by the Cologne Cathedral. He took a tour of it, and though he was Protestant, he loved the stunning ceremony surrounding the installation of a cardinal. That could help explain the symphony’s vibe, powerful but soaring and calming.
The Philharmonic let the music shine. The first movement’s robust melodies were strong and grounded. This is a good piece to observe the bass violins, crisply anchoring the action. The cellists played their hearts out.
The scherzo had a lovely understated grace, and the third movement had weight and presence. In the last movement, the luminous orchestration and bursts of woodwinds could remind you of Mozart.
The concert repeats at 8 tonight and 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Kleinhans Music Hall.