Natasha Paremski has brought the house down before with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. But until now, she has played "big" music, like Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. On Friday morning, the question loomed: How would she do with a subtle Beethoven concerto?
The news was good.
Actually, it was wonderful. I don't particularly remember the details of Paremski's past performances, though I praised them. I think I will remember this one. Beethoven's beautiful Piano Concerto No. 3 got beautiful treatment at the hands of Paremski and the BPO. Music Director JoAnn Falletta let the music breathe. Orchestra and pianist stayed in perfect synch. And the faultless acoustics of Kleinhans let us hear every delicate note.
The concerto is at the middle of a multi-faceted program that also includes two vivid pieces by Hungarian master Zoltan Kodaly. As a change of pace, there's also "Starsplitter," by Williamsville East grad Philip Rothman. And the concert begins with Beethoven's overture "The Consecration of the House," warmly introduced by Falletta as a tribute to classical station WNED-FM.
"The Consecration of the House" hasn't appeared on the Classics series since Michael Tilson Thomas conducted it in 1973. The BPO made up for lost time with a luminous and loving performance. Bright trumpet fanfares jumped out at you, and the strings got across the tenderness that so often fills Beethoven's music.
No one envied the composer of "Starsplitter" for having to follow Beethoven's act. Luckily Rothman, trained at Rice University and Juilliard, was presenting something completely different. The piece had a good way of claiming your attention. It just blasted out at you. From then on it popped with surprises – twitters, booms, bells and whistles.
Like a lot of new music, it could be called a soundscape. Today's composers don't come up with much in the way of melody, but they are geniuses at cooking up sound effects. Rothman came up with something really cool, a kind of buzz that seemed to zip around the orchestra. The piece ended with what amounted to a clap of thunder. This was six minutes of enjoyment. When Rothman took his bow, I think the applause was genuine.
Come to think of it, this entire concert was enjoyment.
Paremski has real strength. She showed that right from her entrance in the Beethoven concerto. It was a thrill to hear and see her racing up the keyboard. She wore a dramatic sleeveless black pantsuit, and it showed her muscles working. The piano's bass lines were crisp and syncopations popped. You could find yourself smiling with pleasure.
But the quiet is what I think the audience will remember. At intermission people were sighing over the middle movement. Such yearning, wistful melodies, and Paremski played them with such grace. Her trills and ornaments were crystalline. Dynamics were expertly handled by both pianist and orchestra. Everything and everyone blended seamlessly.
You could almost say the audience was part of the performance. For the entire Largo movement, the crowd fell completely silent. You could hear a pin drop, and you did, because at certain times that was how quiet the notes were. This is a reason you go to live concerts, to sit there among hundreds of other people, all in tune with the music and each other.
The Kodaly ended the concert with a riot of color.
The seldom-heard Concerto For Orchestra, a BPO Classics Series first, was a festival of contrasts. It was as exciting as you would expect, seeing that Kodaly was inspired by Hungarian folk music. But it was also lyrical, with lovely pastoral themes.
The zesty "Dances of Galanta" are a kind of good luck charm for the BPO. The orchestra has played this effervescent piece on two separate occasions at Carnegie Hall – in 2004 with Falletta, and in 1988 with Semyon Bychkov. It makes a great showpiece.
Falletta's arms were flying as she conducted it Friday. Several times she hopped in the air. The music crackled and sparkled. Everything you want is here – fee-fi-fo-fum rhythms, snappy syncopations, all manner of rattle and zing. What a piece, what an orchestra. The audience went out smiling.
The colorful concert repeats at 8 p.m. April 22 at Kleinhans Music Hall.
Natasha Paremski with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Friday night in Kleinhans Music Hall