The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s December offerings got off to a great start over the weekend by programming a key score from Ludwig van Beethoven’s massive catalog of hits (the Piano Concerto no. 3 in C minor) and pairing it with what is arguably the finest orchestral work by Franz Schubert (his Symphony no. 9 in C major).
Pianist Sara Buechner was the featured soloist in the first half of the concert and guest conductor Rossen Milanov was charged with leading the orchestra through both pieces. In the first performance on Saturday night (the program would be repeated Sunday), the short story was that everything went well. The orchestra was in top form and Buechner displayed that rare combo of power, grace, and, in her brief solo encore, humor.
The Beethoven work was one of those breakthrough moments for the composer. Beethoven biographer Maynard Solomon called the third piano concerto “a marked advance over its predecessors,” noting that it was “something far beyond merely exterior wit or refinement” and a “move toward dramatic oratory.”
Buecher’s attack in the concerto’s two outer movements was exactly what one expects and hopes for in a performance. Quick passage work and a muscular approach helped bring the piano forward in the mix while, in the largo section of the three-part sonic sandwich, there was a delicacy to the soloing which revealed just the right amount of contrast. There wasn’t any bombast in the outer portions to mar the beauty of the inner core.
After the audience rewarded the forces for their performance, Buechner responded to the repeated huzzahs by coming out and playing a foxtrot by George Gershwin that acted as a well-chosen aperitif to what had gone before.
Schubert was only 29 when he handed over his symphony’s finished score to the Philharmonic Society but it wouldn’t be performed in public until little more than a decade later, roughly eight years after the composer died. The standard complaint at that time was that the piece was too long and too difficult for the string but player techniques have gotten better, and appreciation of the score as a true masterpiece has generally erased the naysaying
The BPO’s French horns briefly led off with one of the most beautiful moments in symphonic literature and were joined by rest of the orchestra in a resplendent performance that made three quarters of an hour pass much quicker than the overall length of the work would seem to make possible.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Performing Beethoven and Schubert, Dec. 1 and 2 in Kleinhans Music Hall