Two fabulous Fifths are filling Kleinhans Music Hall this weekend. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Music Director JoAnn Falletta, is performing Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 and the huge Symphony No. 5 of Gustav Mahler.
This is a real apples-and-oranges program. And I am overjoyed to report that at Saturday’s concert, both pieces brought down the house. That is a tribute not only to the orchestra but to the audience – a full house, by the way. Out in the parking lot a minute or so after the Mahler reached its thrilling conclusion, I could hear the crowd inside cheering and yelling. The Bills aren’t the only team around here that makes people want to shout. The BPO does, too.
The young violinist Mayuko Kamio is the soloist for the Mozart concerto. The piece is nicknamed the “Turkish” for the exotic centerpiece of its last movement. Otherwise it is a delicate piece, with wistful touches and, in its Adagio, shades of Romanticism.
Kamio made it sing. She plays a priceless violin on loan from the Stradivarius Society of Chicago, and her heartfelt performance made you appreciate the instrument’s mellow resonance. Modest in appearance – she wore a lovely, ladylike gown, and did nothing flashy – Kamio nevertheless has assertiveness. The moment she entered in the first movement, she changed the entire feel of the piece.
She articulated every phrase with great delicacy but it was clear her heart was in it, and her playing had an impromptu feel. The cadenza to the first movement ended in a stunning double-stop passage, then melted smoothly and flawlessly back into the main theme. The Adagio had heart-melting romance and the last movement had both grace and guts. The crowd loved it and let her know. A Bravo should also go to the BPO. Pared down for the occasion, the orchestra matched her with tenderness and style.
So fervent was the applause that Kamio gave us an encore, and it was nothing anyone would have expected. She played a take-no-prisoners arrangement of Schubert’s famous song “Erlkoenig.” To transcribe a Schubert song for piano is bold enough. To play one – particularly this one, with its galloping pace and constant change of voice and mood – on violin is dizzying. Kamio pulled it off with fire and a tremendous attention to detail. Brava.
From the single trumpet that starts it, the Mahler held the crowd’s attention. It was paced well and the musicians played with overt passion, individually and as a group.
A work like this is the reason you go to Kleinhans instead of listening at home. I can’t imagine what this music sounded like from the front row. Even from the balcony the various solos jumped out at you in sharp relief. There was low, deeply satisfying bass and bright flashes of sound from the brass. At one point there was barely audible timpani, like muffled thunder.
Hearing this music live, you also see what is going on as you could not just from a recording, or even a DVD. To see the horns all raised in a row – and the flutes, too, all in sync – gives you a unique perspective on what is going on. It had a theatrical intensity, all the crazy thundering, whistling and crashing. The scherzo was expertly handled, with a rustic, klezmer sound.
The Adagietto, famous from movies, was a highlight. Falletta knew how to frame it, preceding it with a prolonged, perfect silence. The hushed strings and delicate harp created a sacred atmosphere. The finale was like a roller coaster, with crisp counterpoint from the cellos and violins and expert solo work all around, from such players as Jacek Muzyk, principal horn, and Dennis Kim, our new concertmaster.
The ending, one of the great endings in music, was tremendous – hence the shouting. There are no words to describe it, really. If you have a Flexpass sitting around you need to use up, this could be the time to cash it in. Don’t miss this.