The huge turnout for this concert probably can be attributed to the guest appearance of the extraordinary Japanese-American violinist Midori. It's a pleasure to state that her performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto was one of the major triumphs of the Philharmonic's 1993-94 season, now starting to wind down.
In describing her performance the word "virtuosity" can be put on the shelf. It's not that Midori isn't a virtuoso. Rather, her playing seems so effortless that while I was listening to her, images of virtuosi like Paganini were the furthest things from my mind.
Without taking any undue rhythmic license, Midori molded the lyric lines of the Beethoven concerto in a wholly individual manner, generating such a sense of spontaneity that it almost seemed she was improvising the whole thing on the spot.
The orchestra had established a wonderful quasi-hymnal quality leading to her first entrance, a small, distant sounding attack that quickly rose to an animated state of stress and release in which she almost visibly wrenched the phrases out of her violin. There was nothing violent about her cajoling of the instrument, just a sinuous relationship between violin and player that soon seemed to have become a single organic musical entity.
Midori's sound was alternately sweet and animated, but always with such a sure focus that even at pianissimo levels, her sound could be clearly heard even at the back of the hall. Her playing of the cadenza was absolutely alive, not with pyrotechnic display but with a bewitching mixture of subtle phrasing and bold architecture.
Under Maximiano Valdes' baton, the orchestra always was discreet but always there exactly when needed, particularly in the reverent and tender opening of the slow movement. Here Midori coaxed and caressed the music out of her fiddle, producing an incomparably sweet sound and an extraordinary little fillip of warmth and intensity at the end of longer musical thoughts.
And in the Rondo Finale, Midori played with a beguiling facility that made everything she touched absolutely her own without violating the spirit of Beethoven in the slightest.
The program had opened with Walter Piston's 1956 Serenata, whose genuinely affecting slow movement was surrounded by generic, neoclassical, syncopated allegros that chugged along dutifully.
In the middle there was a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 4, which plodded badly at first, getting steadily stronger to conclude with a Menuetto and Finale that had a vital inner life and an exciting scampering quality that made Piston's efforts seem empty rhetoric.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Maximiano Valdes, featuring violinist Midori
Saturday evening in Kleinhans Music Hall; repeat today at 2:30 p.m. with preconcert talk by Maestro Valdes at 1:30.