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Guest clarinetist Anthony McGill displays artistry with BPO

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s most recent program is loaded with music by heavy hitters. There’s Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony no. 8, Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, and Robert Schumann’s second symphony – music from the 19th and 20th centuries that have proved their worth (in varying degrees) over time.

Leon Botstein was the guest conductor and has quite a reputation as an energetic, arts-centered polymath – heading up a college, publishing a number of well researched texts, and leading orchestras all around the world. His conducting style has relaxed a bit over the decades but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing because time often brings reflection, the opportunity to display a hard earned insight into scores where subtlety can get hammered by the passions of youth.

Under Botstein, the BPO generally displayed its chops, especially in the first half of the program where Schubert and Copland provided plenty of powerful material to dig into.

There are moments in the “Unfinished” Symphony where it seems as if Schubert was meant to accompany epic plotlines with heroes, villains and gods clashing and alliances are mutable. A veritable seiche of emotional tremors rolls from sad to mad to surveying the environs before charging into the maelstrom again and again.

It all started with an ominous set of lines from the bass violin section providing a foundation as periodic flashes of respite occurred throughout the score while the drama and tension lurking behind the quieter moments seethed with apprehension. Instances of relief occur throughout the score but the drama and tension lurking behind quieter moments seethes with drama. It is never static.

Copland’s Clarinet Concerto was a chance to witness artistry of guest soloist Anthony McGill, the principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic. The concerto is seamless, blending the three sections into a whole by using the solo cadenza (sans orchestra) as a bridge between the outer sections. It would be fair to say that bit of soloing, one written for jazz swing master Benny Goodman, was what stole the show and got the audience to rise from their seats in a prolonged ovation.

Schumann’s Symphony no. 2 might be the most problematic work on the program. There are no highs or lows to keep one hanging on to whatever comes next. True, there are moments, especially in the Adagio and the closing Allegro, but this particular performance seemed a bit muddy, sonically speaking, as if the need for precision and crispness was waved at in passing. It wasn’t a bad performance as much as it was an unconvincing performance, one not typical of the BPO’s usual bill of fare.

The program repeats at 8 p.m. March 9. At 7:30 p.m., there will be a performance by Buffalo String Works in a program that works with refugee students by, as its website says, “recognizing the significance of music as a universal language.”

REVIEW

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

Schubert, Copland & Schumann, 10:30 a.m. March 8 in  Kleinhans Music Hall. Program repeats at 8 p.m. March 9. Leon Botstein, conductor with Anthony McGill, clarinet soloist.

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