Once again at Kleinhans Music Hall, the pianist Alain Lefevre is on a roll.
Two years ago when this Quebec pianist was here with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, playing an arcane, challenging concerto by Andre Mathieu, the piano began rolling away from him. After the first movement, technicians had to come out and fix it.
The same thing happened Saturday, when Lefevre was playing Gershwin’s flashy Concerto in F. He was proving himself the master of the music. The tails of his tux were flung over the piano bench. He was pounding out the thrilling rhythms. Everyone was enjoying it, when ...
The piano began rolling!
Lefevre kept grabbing the instrument, steadying it, all the while continuing to play the daylights out of the Gershwin. It was great show-biz. But – why did this happen twice in a row? And you would think that if there were in issue with this, it would have been corrected in rehearsal.
Oh, well. The best music has a touch of mystery. In any case, things unfolded just like last time. Lefevre wound up the first movement with panache, then got up, conferred briefly with Music Director JoAnn Falletta, and left the stage. And a technician in jeans came out and did the necessary.
Lefevre’s performance – memorable, like the last one – was Part 2 of a schizophrenic program. Part 1 was devoted to two suites from “Antony and Cleopatra,” by French Romantic composer Lorent Schmitt.
Schmitt, who died in 1958 at 87, wrote some glorious stuff. It’s rich and romantic, and wraps around you like a blanket. A few weeks ago, Falletta and the BPO performed his tone poem “The Haunted Palace,” inspired by Edgar Allan Poe.
All the Florent Schmitt pieces are being recorded for Naxos. The exploration is attracting worldwide notice because Schmitt’s music, as finally crafted as it is, fell out of fashion decades ago. Recordings are rare.
The music is exceedingly atmospheric. Schmitt wrote it for Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra.” Richly orchestrated, the piece suggests elements of ancient Rome and of ancient Egypt. There are cymbals, Arabic-sounding motifs, trumpet fanfares, twinkles from the percussion.
What Schmitt does not offer is melody. There are no tunes to grab onto. Together, the suites add up to 45 minutes, and after a while, you feel this lack. But the music can keep your attention in other ways. There is no missing, for instance, the section subtitled “Orgy and Dance.” The rhythms and percussion leave no doubt. There is a lot of individual texture and orchestral effects, and the orchestra musicians threw themselves into it with relish.
This music sounds tremendously challenging, which must be a reason it has not been performed or recorded very often. Our orchestra is up to it.
Schmitt worked as a music critic, and he had a habit of yelling his opinions from his concert seat. Were I to follow in his footsteps, which would be fun, I would shout out a big “Bravo!” for Lefevre and his Gershwin.
In the Concerto in F, Gershwin took a lot of classical conventions and gave them a twist. It puts the pianist in an unusual position – you have to have the classical chops, but also the jazz feel. In his formal tails, a sight too seldom seen these days, Lefevre recalled the great virtuosi of the past. He knew how to work this music. I still have this image of him in my head, in his concert finery, his head back, his feet planted on the ground, his hands hammering.
He has tremendous technique, with crisp articulation. And he is very physical with the piano (as was illustrated by the instrument’s rolling around, twice in a row).
The pleasure he seemed to take in the music made it all the more exciting. Even when he was not playing, Lefevre was involved with what was going on. He bounced with this music, and it seemed to spur the orchestra on.
Everyone had a lot of splash. Alex Jokipii, principal trumpet, got a bunch of jazzy moments in the spotlight all on his own, and he played beautifully. Our guest concertmaster, Jonathan Magness, also got a funky solo all to himself.
The concert repeats at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.