The good news is that Friday evening's concert by the Buffalo Philharmonic was an artistic success in almost every respect.
The bad news? Only a disappointingly small crowd turned out to be entertained and uplifted by the music performed by the BPO, Music Director JoAnn Falletta, and guest cellist Carter Brey.
A substantial Friday evening audience for the Classics Series has, so far, been very difficult to generate. So if you had been considering going on Friday but opted out, consider again and grab a ticket for tonight's repeat performance. This is what you'll hear.
American composer Frederick Converse's "Flivver Ten Million: A Joyous Epic" was commissioned by the Ford Motor Co. in 1926 to celebrate the production of the 10 millionth Model T Ford. And it is being given its Buffalo premiere as the last of three Converse works to be recorded by the BPO on the Naxos label for release this fall.
The only prior recording of "Flivver" is now some 30 years old, and the strong, aggressive performance by the BPO and Falletta projects an altogether sharper and more engrossing profile of the music. In eight uninterrupted sections, it describes a day in the life of a car, from the whispering strings and elementary trumpet, flute and harp gestures that signal Dawn in Detroit, through the increasing intensity and imitation of clanking machinery during the factory workday, to the honking horn symbolizing the completed car ready to roll. Subsequent sections include a beautiful violin solo representing America's love affair with the automobile, a raucous joyride, some percussion effects as a collision occurs, followed by a cautious repair job and an even more ebullient return to the road.
This may not be great art, but it is a unique example of American program music which is amusing, provocative, does not outstay its welcome, and deserves to be heard now and again. It would make excellent pops programming.
Cellist Carter Brey offered a wonderfully warm and heartfelt account of Elgar's profoundly eloquent but world-weary 1919 Cello Concerto. His carefully measured opening statement gave the music an expansive feeling, which was somewhat diminished by the fact that during the first two movements there were some balance problems, with the cello's out-front voice being somewhat dimmed.
This was progressively righted and in the slow movement Brey's lovingly phrased lines were perfectly mirrored by the orchestra in the concerto's most poignantly communicative moments. The finale had a wonderfully fluid feeling, thanks to Falletta's excellent control of its rather dramatic modulations in tempo, while the tender pianissimo just before the brusque ending was truly transporting.
Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909) made his BPO debut with the lovely Notturno, Op. 70 No. 1, a work so audience-friendly that with the right exposure it might attain a popularity approaching that of the famed Barber Adagio. The BPO performance was so achingly beautiful that it's worth buying a ticket for this six-minute piece alone.
The concert closed with another of Respighi's evocatively pictorial orchestral suites, the 1927 "Church Windows." It's a work of warmth, richness and brilliance, containing grand processionals, subtle resonances of "Veni Emmanuel," and an organ buttressing the finale with churchly feelings. But the most chilling moment was the sound of a judiciously amplified tubular bell played in the balcony, filling the hall with the quiet ambience of a distant church bell tolling.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta, featuring cellist Carter Brey in the Elgar Concerto
Friday evening in Kleinhans Music Hall
Repeats at 8 p.m. today; preconcert talk at 7