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The BPO does well when it starts the day with Coffee

Friday, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Music Director JoAnn Falletta said how much she loved the orchestra’s Coffee Concerts.

“It makes the rest of the day seem very happy,” she said.

This concert certainly did. To start your day with Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” – everyone should be lucky enough to have that uplifting experience. This is music that can make you think of a big balloon, colorful and serene and transcendent. The BPO gave it loving attention and care.

The rest of the music on the program, more off the beaten path, was also captivating.

Sir Arnold Bax’s “Tintagel,” inspired by the King Arthur legend, sparkles like a tiny diamond. Like a jewel in the crown, you want to say, enjoying the music’s warm harmonies. It casts a kind of spell on you from the start, with trills from the flute, and as it unfolds, it’s pure pleasure. It’s nice how the BPO glories in a little gem like this.

After that gentle introduction, it was time to dive into the Violin Concerto of Carl Nielsen, with soloist Jennifer Koh.

This is a work of daunting difficulty, which might be a reason it had made only one previous appearance on the BPO’s Classics series. But all the difficulty, happily, belongs to the musicians. The audience simply enjoys. At intermission I found myself laughing with WNED-FM’s Peter Hall about the music’s surprise twists and turns. A serene interlude suddenly gives way to a military march. A resolute forte abruptly deflates, the violin tracing a bluesy line down into silence.

Though its structure can be puzzling, the concerto keeps your attention. There are meltingly lovely melodies and Koh, stunning in a long gown of gunmetal blue, played them with warmth and imagination. Her intonation is wonderful. She can repeat a simple phrase and give it a different mood the second time around. As she navigates quick passages, her head bobs and her hair flies. She even broke strings. Good theater!

Koh’s violin had a silken sound. Despite its delicacy, she was not afraid to push its limits, and did so in the cadenzas. Though overwrought in the way cadenzas are, they were a delight just for their sheer dexterity.

It’s hard to choose highlights from the concerto, because there were so many. I loved the drama at the end of the first movement, with the brass blasting like car horns. The theme of the concluding rondo was light and courtly, like a Prokofiev dance. It made me think of Mozart’s “Turkish” Concerto, with its minuet finale. Falletta, Koh and the orchestra gave it wit and buoyancy. I don’t want to give away the ending.

Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations, with its notes of serenity, was a good choice to follow that act.

Something tells me this piece is especially close to Falletta’s heart. You can tell before she even lifts her baton that she sees it as something special, and she goes out of her way to give it room and let it breathe.

Love like that is contagious, and the musicians matched it. The famous “Nimrod” variation, extravagantly slow, had great tenderness. A lot of the appeal of this music lies in its yin and yang, and the performance struck a good balance of nervousness and peace, toughness and tenderness, wisdom and wit. The timpani’s thunder was deep and chiseled and the clarinets and flutes showed fine subtlety. The violins, led by Associate Concertmaster Amy Glidden, projected good emotion. The cellos seemed to catch fire from Principal Cellist Roman Mekinulov, who led them with extroverted passion. He also contributed an eloquent solo.

The concert repeats at Kleinhans Music Hall at 8 p.m. Saturday.


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