Friday night found JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra joining a young pair of world-class violinists who displayed their talents via a musical time-machine journey through Europe.
Germany, Russia, Spain, France and Great Britain contributed the composers, a couple master craftsmen from Cremona, Italy, created the two violins featured in the program, and folk music (or reasonable facsimiles) from the various countries provided a base for most of the scores.
The concert began with Mikhail Glinka’s overture to his opera “Russlan and Ludmilla.” It shot right out of the gate with furious bowing from all the string players. While there were moments toward the middle of the piece where delicacy was called for and delivered, it was an overture meant to set the table for a staged work filled with drama and passion, qualities that Falletta drew out of the musicians.
The violinists, Mayuko Kamio and Augustin Hadelich, then came to the fore to join the BPO in a rendition of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Concerto in D minor for Two Violins and String Orchestra (BWV 1043).”
It was a case of big orchestra Bach where the music was there but so many folks were contributing to the playing that some of the internal voicings in the first movement sounded a bit clogged, raising the question of whether the composer ever thought this piece would be played with seven bassists in the ensemble. Things seemed a bit better balanced in the Largo where the soloists were better differentiated from the backing and the final Allegro was satisfactory.
When Kamio and Hadelich became the focal points for the remaining pieces, it became apparent that these guys were well worth booking.
Kamio’s soaring, rhapsodic playing in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” revealed an emotional depth that was totally appropriate for a work that wasn’t overtly flashy but that needed an intense and subtly virtuosic performance to come to full fruition. The audience signaled its appreciation with a standing ovation.
Her take on Pablo de Sarasate’s “Zigeunerweisen” was a whole different animal – showier, more overtly technical in its virtuosity. There was a slow burning fire that gradually ramped up in a flurry of incandescent sonic sparks before burning down the house. The following ovation was even louder.
Hadelich’s showcases didn’t cover the same variety of emotions demonstrated in Kamio’s portion of the recital, but he had a level of showmanship that delivered the audience into his corner. It helped that the two works burnished with Hadelich’s playing – Maurice Ravel’s “Tzigane” and Sarasate’s “Fantasy on Bizet’s Carmen” – benefitted from the pen of a master orchestrator (in the Ravel) and the pyrotechnics of a composer who also happened to be a violin virtuoso (Sarasate). Big, bravura statements were played with plenty of verve and a flair for the dramatic. The audience rose once again in appreciation.
Finally the soloists left the stage to Falletta and the orchestra, who wound up the proceedings with a rousing version of Emmanuel Chabrier’s “Espana,” a masterful choice to end the evening.
Oh, and about the violins.
Hadelich played the “Ex-Kiesewetter” Stradivarius owned by Buffalo philanthropists Clement and Karen Arrison. Kamio played the 1735 “Sennhauser” Guarneri del Gesu, on loan from an anonymous owner.