This weekend’s Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concerts are guest-conducted by Daniel Hege, music director of the Wichita Symphony, and conclude with Beethoven’s mighty Symphony No. 5.
But they open with two works featuring lots of solo instruments.
In the concert – performed Friday morning and repeated at 8 tonight, the 1953 Concert Variations by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla put the spotlight on every principal player in the orchestra.
They all performed superbly, too many to mention by name, but all should take a collective bow.
In a very nice touch, the work opens with a lovely cello-harp rumination, and then in the penultimate variation it returns in the double bass and harp reminiscence. In between, the viola has a lovely contemplation ending in rhapsodic cantillations, the intertwined voices of oboe and bassoon are ear-catching, the horn’s arcing lines in pastoral contemplation are absorbing, and in the Rondo Finale, the full orchestra played with a neat crispness, underpinned by dicey rhythmic comments by the timpani.
Violinist Elissa Lee Koljonen joined the orchestra for the 1965 “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires” by Piazzolla, a very deft program choice in that Piazzolla had studied with Ginastera.
Based on tango melodies and rhythms, this work has become so popular that it has been transcribed for many combinations of instruments. I have heard is as a piano trio and am quick to say that this arrangement for violin and string orchestra is decidedly more interesting.
The violin part calls less for virtuosity than for evocative projection of the tango flavors, which Koljonen provided expertly.
Summer opens with a subtly rhythmic and excitable melodic line and concludes with a dramatic downsweeping glissando by the violin.
Autumn’s warmth is heightened by prominent viola lines complementing the violin’s voice, while Winter seemed warmer than expected, this time with expressive commentary from the cello.
In all the movements Piazzolla seemed obligated to alternate fast and slow tempos, with the result that looking back over the musical landscape from the end it was difficult to remember one movement from another.
Hege’s approach to the Beethoven Fifth was direct, clear and informative. The entire symphony rings with and is built upon the rhythm and melody of that famous four-note opening motto that every kid in the street knows.
It emerges in some form as the glue that binds each movement, and Hege, without making it too prominent, made sure that those binding rhythms and intervals were heard.
The result was a performance of the great Fifth Symphony that gave us an inner view of the work as well as its grand, triumphant sweep.