Although this weekend's BPO concerts offer three superb, listener-friendly works, pride of place must yield to a last-minute program addition. It was "Psalm" for cello and piano by the late Harry Taub, the BPO's associate concertmaster for nearly 50 years, heard in an orchestration by BPO hornist Jay Matthews and Alfred Frenning. The entire program is also dedicated to Taub's memory.
With JoAnn Falletta conducting and BPO cellist Robert Hausmann as soloist, "Psalm" spoke in traditional tonalities, weaving a somber yet not mournful spell, and radiating the ritual concentration of a cantorial chant, leavened slightly by klezmer rhythmic nuances. The totally committed performance was a fitting tribute to Taub's wide-ranging musicianship.
Ravel's "Mother Goose Suite" is an extraordinarily rich and sonorous work. Orchestral ambience is predominantly soft, and kaleidoscopically colorful, growing progressively more lush until the exquisite segue into "The Fairy Garden" reveals a delectable fairyland luxuriance unique to Ravel and unmatched elsewhere in the orchestral repertory. Falletta and the BPO brought out the music's radiance and warmth with conviction.
Pianist Eldar Nebolsin was featured in Dohnanyi's witty and expressive 1914 "Variations on a Nursery Theme," with its exaggeratedly pompous introduction leading to the disarming piano statement of the main theme, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." But don't misjudge. This is a serious and superbly crafted piece whose main virtue is the engrossing musical logic that leads the listener's ear seamlessly from one variation to the next, with evocations of a tinkling music box, sweeping waltz and a delicious argument between piano and bassoon.
It's a work that requires great piano virtuosity but not in showy displays. Rather, it provides a chattering propulsion and gives orchestral sonority a glittering edge, while also being central to maintaining lyrical and rhythmic continuity. Nebolsin has dazzling technique that he unstintingly applied to his role as an integral partner of the orchestra rather than spotlighted soloist. The collaboration was next to flawless and one wonders why this work, fully the equal of the ubiquitous Rachmaninoff "Paganini Rhapsody," has not achieved equal popularity. Perhaps the BPO's forthcoming Naxos recording will help to right this imbalance.
The concert concluded with Bartok's 1944 Concerto for Orchestra. Except for the second movement that provocatively features bassoons, oboes, clarinets, flutes and trumpets in pairs, the work is less obvious in throwing the spotlight on individual players and sectional choirs. But the result is a spectacular opportunity for the musicians to shine, and they responded splendidly. Especially effective was the evocative Elegy movement and the engaging gypsy tune in strings with nasal responses in the Intermezzo, while the Finale provided a sweeping build-up of momentum, superbly well realized.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by JoAnn Falletta on Friday in Kleinhans Music Hall. Another performance at 8 tonight.
For more information, call 885-5000 or visit www.bpo.org.