The Rochester conductor Arild Remmereit is at Kleinhans Music Hall this weekend, leading the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and he cuts quite a figure.
Remmereit, who led the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra until its crisis last fall, is very tall and imposing. He has shining blond hair that could almost be called shoulder length. He wore the traditional tie and tails. To complete the dramatic picture, he is conducting Wagner, the prelude to “Parsifal” and music from “Tristan and Isolde.”
He is also conducting Prokofiev’s athletic Second Piano Concerto, featuring pianist Yakov Kasman.
The two musicians are an unforgettable study in contrasts. Kasman is an unassuming-looking man, and he wore plain clothes, not concert finery. He looked small and unprepossessing next to Remmereit as they walked from the wings.
It was fascinating to see them collaborating. Remmereit is evocative, shaping crescendi with his arms spread wide, gesturing toward musicians. Kasman is bent over the keyboard like an accountant bent over his desk.
But they carried off the concerto. This piece, even if you don’t know it well, reaches out and grabs you. It has thunder and crash and it also has those beautiful, angular Prokofiev melodies that call to mind his ballets. The dynamics were sculpted well. The scherzo, a mad kind of perpetual motion, was irresistible. Kasman hammered away blank-faced, as the orchestra accentuated his playing with bursts and blasts.
Remmereit gave his all to the Wagner. You don’t hear Wagner very often at Kleinhans. The “Parsifal” prelude has not been heard at Kleinhans since Josef Krips conducted it in 1955. That seems a shame.
One reason could be that the piece is so challenging. It has to be seamless and ethereal and Saturday’s performance sometimes fell short of that. There were instances when instruments did not come in quite together, and there were a few other rough edges too. By the end, though, any flaws were forgotten as you sank into the rich sound of the brass and the cellos.
The “Tristan” music – the Prelude and Liebestod, and the Prelude to Act III – sounded different in some ways from how I was used to hearing this music. Remmereit has his own ideas. He slows things sometimes at points when you expect more momentum. Occasionally I wondered if he were overengineering things.
When he builds the momentum, though, he sweeps you into it, so I began thinking his approach works. The orchestra sounded lush and lovely. A highlight was the long, serene English horn solo, courtesy of Anna Mattix. Wagner used woodwinds and low tones in brass to express the subconscious, and this solo was improvisatory, natural and expressive.
The concert came to a cathartic close. Many in the audience rose and applauded. Remmereit went into the orchestra and congratulated Mattix, and her colleagues, too, were cheering. The concert repeats today at 2:30 p.m.