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BPO runs a rich gamut of Russian emotion

With the festivities of opening night a fond memory, JoAnn Falletta is kicking off the meat-and-potatoes part of the new Classics Series season this weekend with an appealing Russian program that traces an emotional journey from casual ethnic folksiness to abject despair.

Friday's performance opened with Prokofiev's 1920 "Overture on Hebrew Themes," whose oom-pah string undertone and Klezmer tilt keep recurring to unify this brief but engaging work. The performance kept its changing flavors in proper perspective.

Cellist Roman Mekinulov, the BPO's principal, was soloist in Tchaikovsky's joyful and virtuosic "Variations on a Rococo Theme." It was an excellent choice for the center of this program, and Mekinulov played with consummate ease and expressiveness throughout.

After the sweet, pleading string introduction, Mekinulov presented the appealing and gently pointed main theme with genuine affection. The subsequent variations, whether lyrical, declamatory or athletically racing, were played with superb articulation and an immaculately centered tone. This gave the longer line of the work a sense of unity and a connected lyricism that radiated a storytelling sense of purpose. Falletta and the BPO provided a finely balanced partnership. The enthusiastic audience response prompted an appropriate Russian encore, Rachmaninoff's incomparably serene "Vocalise."

The focus of the concert was Tchaikovsky's last work, the Symphony No. 6 ("Pathetique"). It is thought by some to be a premonition of death, but as music of dark eloquence and grandeur, it has few equals.

A sense of logic unified the performance, with the clarity of inner voicing in woodwinds and brass a continuing marvel. The foreboding string introduction and beautiful main theme were developed involvingly up to the famous sudden fortissimo attack that had shock value but amazing clarity.

The momentary respite of the waltz second movement had a buoyant lilt that bordered on aggressive. It almost always evokes spontaneous applause, and this performance was no exception.

The finale's cold string chords and snarling wind convulsions were superbly shaped to anticipate the work's final, fading expressions of desolation. Artistically, it deserved a standing ovation, but in this emotional climate it would have seemed insensitive. The audience response was sincere and appropriate.

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>Concert Review

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" with conductor JoAnn Falletta and cellist Roman Mekinulov on Friday morning in Kleinhans Music Hall. Another performance at 8 tonight. For more information, call 885-5000 or visit www.bpo.org.

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