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Concert review

Buffalo Philharmonic's Haydn Festival

Sunday in Kleinhans Music Hall.

The Buffalo Philharmonic presented the third and final concert of its Haydn Festival on Sunday afternoon. As with the other concerts in the Intimate Portraits series, the actual performance space was reduced from the regular 2,800 seat hall to the intimacy of the Mary Seaton Room, with the string section reduced in size to fit the style of the pieces.

Two full rows of chairs had to be added in the back of the sunny room to accommodate the audience, which got a surprise when Music Director JoAnn Falletta took the podium in place of Associate Conductor Ron Spigelman, who, she explained, was conducting in Missouri.

The first of three pieces was Symphony No. 96 in D major. The sound and ensemble of the orchestra improved as the musicians got more used to their new surroundings, playing on the floor with the empty stage above them at their backs.

The first movement set the afternoon's tone when brief solos for the first and second principal violins had trouble cutting through orchestra. Perhaps the highlight of the symphony's performance was the beautiful oboe solo that floated out and over the wind section in the second movement.

The real surprise of the concert was the little-played Sinfonia concertante in B flat. It would have been interesting to know about why Haydn composed it, but no program notes were provided for this concert.

The piece put the spotlight on four of the Philharmonic's principal players -- concertmaster Charles Haupt, cellist Roman Mekinulov, oboist Pierre Roy and bassoonist Glenn Einschlag. Again, the performance improved as the musicians acclimated themselves to their new surroundings.

The quartet of musicians is first class and displayed to everyone the high level of musicianship within the orchestra. Mekinulov in particular delivered a fiery and passionate rendering of the cello part. The arpeggiated horn part at the end of the second movement was absolutely beautiful.

Intermission itself was interesting. With no real backstage, the musicians went into the audience's space to rest their instruments in their cases placed on tables along the walls and on the empty stage. Orchestra members, including Falletta, engaged in many conversations with audience members. Wonderful.

The program closed with the famous "Surprise Symphony," No. 94 in G major. Despite some really good playing, the orchestra, on the whole, seemed unaware of the intimacy needed for this piece in these surroundings.

It was, all in all, conceptually mezzo, with an occasional hint of a smirk, but never humor. The repeat of the principal theme in the second movement was the first and only time that the orchestra reached pianissimo all afternoon. It was stunning.

Everything was in place: excellent musicians, excellent music and four perfectly proportioned walls. Add to that the relaxed intermingling of the workers and their patrons, making it a memorable afternoon. The audience responded to the performance with a standing ovation.