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BPO’s Tchaikovsky program with Bidini keeps crowd on edge of seat

Fabio Bidini is back. He is the elegant Italian pianist who blazes through here like a comet when the stars are lined up right. He plays epic Romantic music, the kind of music the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra embraces.

This weekend, Bidini is the soloist in Round One of the BPO’s Tchaikovsky Festival. Music Director JoAnn Falletta is conducting. Bidini is performing Tchaikovsky’s not-often-heard Piano Concerto No. 3, and the concert also features Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular Fifth Symphony.

Saturday’s concert was a lavish evening full of emotion. Looking over the good-sized crowd as the Fifth Symphony rocketed toward its crashing close, I thought that rarely had I seen such overt enjoyment. People were literally on the edge of their seats. One man leaned forward, his head bobbing. A woman softly beat time on the armrest. A row of kids who looked as if they were in high school seemed enchanted. You cannot beat this kind of musical spectacle. You had to love it.

The concert began with the soaring music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Sleeping Beauty.” The orchestra played it with heart. The Entr’acte from Act II is something like a mini violin concerto, and Dennis Kim, the concertmaster, gave it grace and tenderness. A high point, so to speak, was an interlude that had him negotiating whistling high notes against whispering accompaniment from the orchestra.

After the glorious waltz from Act I, it was time for the concerto.

Even if you haven’t heard this piece – most people haven’t – it will grab you from the word go. It has great percussive style and the interaction between piano and orchestra creates a lot of spark and sparkle. The piano part starts out with simple octaves but soon takes off. Bidini, elaborately dressed, knows good theater and rolled out arpeggios and long runs with strength and elan. He has great percussive strength. He seemed to be working hard, particularly in a protracted cadenza, but that is part of the show. He actually wiped his brow after that cadenza. Bravo!

It made for quite a thrilling barrage. The piano was usually forte. The orchestra responded with stormy blasts. There are beautiful themes, and catchy, particularly Russian motifs. The music keeps your attention, and wound up in a blast, like fireworks.

The concerto’s short length left time for a couple of encores. The crowd practically demanded them, with a long standing ovation. Bidini gave us a dramatic Chopin scherzo, full of virtuosic dash, and a sweetly sultry Chopin nocturne. His unhurried and spontaneous style made this music a treat.

The Fifth Symphony is a proven hit anywhere, but especially at Kleinhans Music Hall, where the acoustics make it a thrill. Falletta went airborne within the first five minutes of the first movement, so you knew that the spirit was there.

Tchaikovsky used the colors of the orchestra exquisitely in this cathartic symphony. There are so many details to savor. Exotic trills in the woodwinds could remind you of the Arabian Coffee Dance in “Nutcracker.” The brass, magnificently arrayed, pours out declamatory fanfares. Timpanist Matthew Bassett earned his money. So much throughout the evening hinged on him, and he delivered. Jack Muzyk, principal horn, set a transcendent mood with his solo in the opening of the second movement. Clarinetist John Fullam brought his characteristic understated poetry to the close of that movement. A few people couldn’t help applauding. It was hard to blame them.

The last movement was shaped so it built gradually to that overpowering close. It won an instantaneous standing ovation.

The concert repeats at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Kleinhans Music Hall.

email: mkunz@buffnews.com

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