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BPO’s Viennese program is imbued with spirit of Mozart

The spirit of Mozart shines bright over the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert this weekend. BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta is conducting a Viennese program that begins with music from Franz Schreker’s “The Birthday of the Infanta” and ends up with Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos Symphony Suite.”

In-between comes music from the master himself – Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27, with soloist Eldar Nebolsin.

It’s a luminous, lovely program. It adds to the charm that Nebolsin is known for larger-scale Romantic works. How would he be in this Mozart concerto which was, even for its time, so surprisingly spare and introspective?

A good crowd turned out Saturday to find out.

The Schreker charmed everyone. This is the kind of Romantic music that wraps itself around you – so rich, so satisfying. It’s just seven minutes long and you wish it were longer. I wouldn’t worry about the story, which involves a princess and a dwarf. Just enjoy the music’s overall sheen – the textures, the sensuous lines. At intermission people were raving about how beautiful it was.

The Mozart concerto that followed was a compelling contrast. Suddenly we were in the late 18th century, and in a different musical universe. This concerto, written late in Mozart’s life, stands out for its anti-virtuosic qualities. It begins quietly, with a pulse that suggests somebody breathing. It has a tenderness and subtlety that sets it apart. Nebolsin’s performance was cool but convincing. You do not have to do a lot with this music – just play it clearly, let it shine. Though he added some improvisation, his approach was conservative. The sighing melodies of the opening movement projected clearly into the hall. Nebolsin’s singing tone also brought out the pleasures of the music, the sorrowing beauty of the melodic lines.

His heart was clearly in it. He played during the tutti sections – that is, when the music was given over to the orchestra, and the piano does not have to play. There is so much to listen for in this music, so many stunning ways in which the instruments interact. Nebolsin showed remarkable facility, too, as he navigated the tricky piano solo lines. Mozart has a way of working your fingers. The cadenzas, by Mozart, flowed well. The orchestra was attentive. It was a soulful experience.

Nebolsin added an extra touch of magic afterward when he played, as an encore, a Chopin mazurka. It was delicate and exotic and he played it with exquisite grace. Chopin, who loved Mozart, would have gloried in this performance and placement. Bravo.

Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” Symphony-Suite takes a lot of explaining. The piece is tied up with Strauss’ “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme,” which the BPO presented last year with the Irish Classical Theatre. This particular setting, which involves a chamber orchestra, was crafted in 2010 for the Nashville Symphony.

BPO Archivist Edward Yadzinski sorts it all out admirably and clearly in the program notes. The truth is, though, that you can just sit back and enjoy this music for what it is, for its wealth and its richness. You do not have to know the opera or its history. It is enough to bask in the bracing harmonies, the glorious melodies. Strauss, in this piece as in so many others, was looking back to Mozart and the 18th century. The BPO brought out the music’s bittersweet grace.

The concert repeats at 2:30 p.m. March 20.


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