Violinist Gil Shaham with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Falletta
Saturday evening in Kleinhans Music Hall.
In the two decades since his entry on the international concert scene, Gil Shaham has ascended to that very small, elite group of artists whose name on a concert program guarantees a huge attendance, as confirmed once again by Saturday's Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concert.
Happily, Shaham brought with him one of his signature pieces, the warm, rhapsodic Violin Concerto by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957). The composer achieved phenomenal success very early in life, but fled Europe under the Nazi shadow in 1934, settling in Hollywood where he won two Oscars for film scores.
His Violin Concerto was written in 1945, using thematic material from his film music. The debut performance was wildly acclaimed, but soon the trend away from romantic music took the concerto out of circulation, aided by misplaced snobbery over a concert work deemed to be "recycled movie music."
In recent years, the Korngold concerto has returned to the standard concert repertoire, thanks largely to the advocacy of Shaham and Itzhak Perlman.
Saturday's performance reveled in the music's lyricism and radiated its lush warmth, without at any point lapsing into sentimentalism. The character was established at the outset with Shaham's slender, intense and glistening sound introducing the main theme then continuing to ride the crest of the supportive orchestral line, carefully shaped by BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta. The engaging cadenza was extremely agile, almost capricious.
Even stronger evidence that Shaham "owns" this concerto came in the slow movement, where he produced exquisitely sweet wisps of sound in the tender main theme. This is evanescent music, with Shaham's violin following a trail of delicate aerial tracery through a more pensive and intense section to arrive back at the original elevated realm of sweetness.
By contrast, the Finale can be seen as a spirited chase, with Shaham quite content to have the sound of his violin alternately out front and then receding into the orchestral texture much in the manner of a baroque concerto. There were countering loping passages that moderated the pace momentarily, and earlier thematic material returned in cameo appearances, especially effective in superb brass declamations.
In response to a thunderous ovation, Shaham offered Bach's Gavotte from Partita No. 3 for solo violin as an encore.
The concert had opened with Verdi's Overture to "La forza del destino" in an assertive performance that mirrored the opera's tenseness and drama.
Concluding the concert was Ernest Chausson's 1890 Symphony in B-Flat Major. Throughout the three movements Falletta tried to keep the textures clear so that attentive ears could pick up all the intricate relationships among the work's quite memorable themes. She was largely successful at this, although it seemed the tempo of the first movement was excessive at times, diminishing its contrast with the Finale.
The plaintive slow movement was particularly moving, with the clarinets pristinely articulate in their garnishing upswept runs, and a grand climax to conclude.
The galloping figures of the Finale established the bracing, precipitous pace Falletta sought. This put a contrasting aural spotlight on the pensive section leading to the serious extended coda, which was magnificent.