Two vivid personalities join the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on stage this weekend at Kleinhans Music Hall. One is the Mexican conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto. He is charm personified. The other is violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, playing Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” on a priceless violin.
Meyers is a wonderful player. To be honest, though, I don’t know who I really came to see – her, or her violin.
She has a variety of venerable violins at her disposal, lent to her by philanthropists. Her latest acquisition, the one I believe she is playing this weekend, is a Guarneri del Gesu that was once owned by the 19th-century virtuoso Henri Vieuxtemps. Her bio in the BPO program states that it is “considered by many to be the finest violin being performed on today.”
It was a thrill just to be in the same room with this thing. And it sounded glorious. It was brilliant but mellow, with a big clear openness of tone.
Meyers handles it lovingly but casually. Seeing her drop her arms for a second and leave the violin propped under her chin, with nothing holding it up, you just about had to gasp.
She has a vigorous tone, digging into the instrument, letting you feel the texture of the music. Vigor is what you want for Vivaldi, who revels in the motions of the violin, the sawing and skipping and leaping. A highlight for me was the beautiful Largo from “Winter.” It’s a beautiful melody, like an aria. It is a dream for violinists, and Meyers played it simply, like a song, with the orchestra thrumming behind her like an engine.
It was great fun to watch Meyers playing what amounts to duets with BPO musicians. At one point she was joined by Principal Violist Valerie Heywood, playing repeated notes against Meyers’ melody line, a great hypnotic effect. Principal Cellist Roman Mekinulov got to partner with Meyers at another juncture, and other musicians did, too. Prieto and Meyers both have finely tuned senses of timing, and the very large crowd gave the piece an instantaneous standing ovation.
Prieto won the audience over from the concert’s start. Unexpectedly, he swung around to introduce the opening piece, Manuel de Falla’s “El Amor Brujo.” His humor and passion for the piece magnified its built-in excitement. This is a vivacious piece, involving Gypsies, folk rhythms and the famous “Ritual Fire Dance.” When it was over, Prieto signaled one after another of the BPO musicians to rise for a bow.
Completing the concert was Haydn’s Symphony No. 96 in D, the “Miracle.” The symphony gets its name because, the story goes, a chandelier fell at the symphony’s premier, but the London audience avoided injury because they had all crowded to the front of the hall to cheer Haydn.
The enjoyment of this fine symphony is in the details. It is transparent music, and it has to be just so. The Philharmonic’s strings, led by Concertmaster Michael Ludwig, played with satisfying crispness, bringing out the fine craftsmanship. The flutes and other woodwinds joined in with grace and precision.
Adding significantly to Saturday’s glamour was a pre-concert performance by the Muhammad School of Music.
The concert repeats today at 2:30 p.m.