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Concert review

The Buffalo Philharmonic, "Mozart's Last Breath"

Conducted by JoAnn Falletta

Saturday night in Kleinhans Music Hall. Program repeats at 2:30 p.m. today.

Crowds packed Kleinhans Music Hall on Saturday for "Mozart's Last Breath," an all-Mozart program featuring the Piano Concerto No. 21 and the great Requiem. The hall looked sold out. One ticket seller said it was the biggest Classics concert he could remember.

This weekend's performance of Mozart's Requiem is a tribute to Scott Parkinson, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra principal trombonist, who died in June at age 27.

Parkinson's family was there Saturday, and emotions ran high. The Requiem the audience heard was not only powerful, but it was -- to use a word usually applied to rock shows -- raw.

Musicologists can argue forever about whether the dying Mozart was, in fact, writing his Requiem with himself in mind. What is beyond doubt is that, for whatever reason, he poured his soul into it.

Saturday, one got the feeling that the orchestra, Music Director JoAnn Falletta, the soloists and the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus were pouring their souls into it, too. It was awe-inspiring and a little frightening, too.

The two featured works could hardly have been more different. If the Requiem showed Mozart's dark side, the "21st Piano Concerto" showed his light side. It's a glorious gem, light and beautiful, the way only Mozart can be.

In the understated way of almost all Mozart's piano music, it requires tremendous flexibility and grace on the part of the pianist. Stewart Goodyear, the 25-year-old soloist, acquitted himself well. A little more free with the tempo than most Mozart pianists, he has a good sense of phrase and can make the melodies sing. The popular slow movement, with its long, lyrical line, was pure and polished. The cadenza in the finale was unusual and witty.

The Requiem, right from the downbeat, was riveting.

This intense piece, so unlike the calm, serene Mozart many people are used to, calls for total commitment, and right from the downbeat, the orchestra and chorus provided that. These days, the BPO is routinely excellent, but there was something extra here, an additional edge. The music had a tremendous passion.

The Kyrie's magnificent double fugue whipped past at a lightning pace and built to thunderous heights, anchored by the pounding timpani. Usually when the fugue ends, there's an instant to catch your breath, but not so in this instance; Falletta and the assembled forces whipped immediately into the terrifying Dies Irae.

That was the way the performance went. It was a shocker. It never let up. Soprano Sharla Nafziger sang with strength and tenderness. Rebekah Ambrosini showed a clear, resonant mezzo voice. Tenor Christopher Pfund poured urgency into his lines.

Bass Michael Dean was a highlight in Tuba Mirum. Set off by that stark, beautiful trombone solo, he filled the music with warmth.

The concert repeats today at 2:30 p.m. My advice: Act fast.


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