There was no Vivaldi on the program, but that didn't stop Viva Vivaldi from wrapping up its 39th season with vigor -- and variance.
Over years of going to this festival, which features the Ars Nova Musicians led by Marylouise Nanna, I never remember a program made up entirely of Vicarious Visionaries (the term applied to composers other than Vivaldi). Not only was there no Vivaldi on this program, but the main event was Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto.
The piano soloist was Alexander Aylward. A Nichols grad, he is an alumnus of Boston College's Honors Program, class of 2017, majoring in philosophy and classics. He is also in the process of forming his own orchestra here in Buffalo.
Last year, when he performed Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto for Viva Vivaldi, he showed himself to be a unique talent -- confident, competent and quirky. This year, the fun continued.
Aylward is the son of Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Assistant Concertmaster Ansgarius Aylward, and he grew up surrounded by music. Maybe that accounts for some of his self-possession. Before -- not after -- tackling this big concerto, he got up and bade us good evening. He went on to introduce the piece, reciting in the process a poem by W.H Auden. Then he concluded: "Thank you for coming here to participate in the inexplicable miracle of music."
With which, he and the Ars Nova Musicians went on to play the heck out of this concerto.
A bravo must go to St. Michael's itself, because of the modern church's mercilessly bright acoustics. The music jumped out at you in a way that probably wasn't to everyone's liking, but it was to mine.
Just the sheer volume was deeply satisfying. Nanna paced the Romantic music admirably, handling the crescendos deftly and building to crashing high points. The individual musicians seemed to revel in the details that make this concerto the glamorous creation it is.
And in the middle was Aylward, filling Rachmaninoff's big Russian shoes (or should we say gloves) with not a worry in the world. The piano could sound a bit funky from time to time -- maybe it was the acoustics -- but there was no problem with how he handled it. The slow movement, music that has accompanied many a romantic movie, was warm and lovely. It's nice how the musicians took their time with it.
The transition from second to third movement took too long, and Nanna could have done more to ratchet up the excitement of the concluding coda. But I think it's safe to say that the bang-up performance bowled everyone over. That is quite a talent that Aylward has. I'm not sure where he goes with it. It is a tough world out there. But whatever he does, it will be interesting.
The Rachmaninoff was preceded by Boccherini's Concerto No. 2 for Cello, featuring David Schmude. It was a lovely performance of a very pretty piece. Boccherini was a fine melodist, and in that way the piece set the stage nicely for what was to come.
The concert opened with Albinoni's famous Adagio for organ and strings.
A final note: Should you wish to check out Alexander Aylward's new orchestra, the group is performing Nov. 26 in St. Paul's Cathedral in downtown Buffalo as a prelude to the 10:15 a.m. service. Aylward will be conducting the Adagio of Schumann's Second Symphony and the overture to Mozart's "The Magic Flute."