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Ludwig keeps Coffee Concert hot

Michael Ludwig, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's new concertmaster, is normally anything but grandstanding. True, he drives a red BMW. Other than that, though, he seems like a quiet, intellectual sort of guy.

What a surprise it was, then, when Ludwig strode out on stage Friday in a flashy red shirt that Doc Severinsen would have envied. It was a sure sign that we were going to see a whole new side of him.

At Kleinhans Music Hall this weekend, Ludwig is stepping out as the violin soloist in two pieces, Ernest Chausson's romantic "Poeme" and Pablo de Sarasate's smoldering " 'Carmen' Fantasy." His performance is something to behold.

The " 'Carmen' Fantasy" was especially fascinating. This is a sexy, after-hours piece. You can't be shy with it. You have to throw caution to the wind and just put it out there.

Ludwig, God love him, did.

He stood still, feet together. But his musical gestures are grand. As he played Bizet's fiery arias, his playing took on the inflections of a human voice. The thin notes that led into the "Seguidilla" were nasal and malicious. The "Habanera" was slinky and seductive. High notes sang and whistled. Ornaments were sharp and thrilling.

Ludwig wrapped up the piece with a stunning outpouring of virtuosity, his head, hands and bow all a blur.

And it wasn't even noon! (Friday's performance was a "Coffee Concert.") What is this going to sound like tonight?

Chausson's "Poeme" was, in its own way, just as passionate. In the diaphonous orchestral introduction, you could see Ludwig swaying to the music, and when it was his turn to begin, he joined in seamlessly, his tone liquid and languorous. He did a beautiful job with the ending -- a soft, slow cascade of descending trills over muffled timpani. The effect was magical.

Both pieces earned standing ovations. As an encore, Ludwig treated us to a gorgeous rendition of the popular "Meditation" from Massenet's "Thais."

How do you follow this drama? Dvorak's Seventh Symphony was a good choice. The piece makes you switch gears. Its lines are calming and horizontal. The third movement, with its hints of Brahms, spotlights the rich sounds of the woodwinds.

Like the Sarasate, the symphony was a marvel to hear live. You can see how Dvorak employs the colors of the orchestra, from sweeping cellos to resonant trombone lines. The ultimate effect was deep and satisfying.


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