Concerts, by their very nature, aren't meant to be socially distanced but pandemics and conflicts put constraints on the arts that artists will seek to work around despite the obstacles.
In the Internet Age this has meant a migration of performances from live venues to the virtual world, a place where immediacy is ephemeral and lasting at the same time; for music, it’s a YouTube/VEVO world.
The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is operating there now and its latest offering via its BPOnDemand series – featuring scores by Anton Arensky, Dmitri Shostakovich and Franz Joseph Haydn – was released to the virtual ticket buying public on Feb. 23.
It’s a worthy effort and the program seems perfectly tailored to address the emotional template of the moment, encircling angst with beauty.
Conductor/Music Director JoAnn Falletta, along with orchestra members Dmitry Gerikh and Edmond Gnekow, set the scenes with brief spoken introductions to the individual pieces, but it’s the music and the playing that illuminate the concert.
From an audio standpoint, the relaxed cushion of Arensky’s lovely “Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky” (op. 35a) segues deceptively into the building tension of Shostakovich’s dramatic and emotionally charged “Chamber Music for Strings” (op. 110a) before closing to restorative effect with Haydn’s Symphony no. 44 in E minor.
The Arensky and Shostakovich works have string quartet pieces at the heart of their existence with the former elaborating on the slow movement of Arensky’s second string quartet (op. 35) while the “Chamber Symphony” is an arrangement of Shostakovich’s "String Quartet no. 8 (op. 110)" by Rudolf Barshai. The Haydn score is the only one utilizing brass and winds while the 20-piece string section – each member socially distanced from the others – is the musical constant in all three performances.
There’s a ”bonus” feature of this particular concert. Just as a program in Kleinhans Music Hall, the orchestra’s physical home, would sometimes feature a musical prelude in the Mary Seaton Room across from the main concert stage, this recording starts out with a well played sonic appetizer – composer David Uber’s “Brass Trio” performed by trumpeter Geoffrey Hardcastle, horn player Sheryl Hadeka and trombonist Timothy Smith.
While Kleinhans is the setting for this performance, the audience’s applause isn’t heard there these days. It used to be that the musical finale of the concert led to the audience filtering out of the hall and into the world but that shouldn’t stop anyone viewing these performances from a different place and then applauding the musician’s efforts in their own private “hall.”
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra