The Buffalo News
By Mary Kunz Goldman
April 17, 2011
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Dynamic contrasts carry concert from Barber to Billy the Kid

Matthew Kraemer, the Buffalo Philharmonic’s associate conductor, is conducting the Classics Concert this weekend. As if recognizing the gravity of the occasion, he walked out in a more low-key style than usual.

The concert itself was anything but low key.

It begins with Alberto Ginastera’s 12-minute “Estancia,” music sure to get anyone hopping. This music had some tender moments — a flute solo against pizzicato strings, for instance, and an interlude of horizontal peace, like Copland.

Most of the piece, though, was over-the-top drama. The timpani thundered in Latin rhythms. The brass dished out Olympic fanfares. Even the basses got into the act, performing as percussionists, laying down the beat.

It fascinated me how this noisy, good-natured piece could change in a flash, with everyone swinging deftly from one color to another, one dynamic to another. The fortes were lavish and excessive. You would not think they could kick it up a notch but they did, several times. I loved every minute. I would bet that the orchestra did, too.

How were we going to top that?

Luckily Samuel Barber’s violin concerto, which came next, is a different animal. The first two movements, at least, are lovely and lyrical. Soloist Jennifer Koh, too, is laid back as violinists go. She has her own type of fire, but it is a quiet fire.

She leaned into that dreamy opening theme with passion and conviction. Her tone was a pleasure to hear — you admire it the way you might admire a fine fabric. The high-treble lines were a special delight, strong like a silk thread.

Though not overtly dramatic, Koh pours herself into the music. She swayed to the playing of the orchestra. An enchanting moment came each time the opening theme returned. She would finish her phrase, dramatically, raise her bow and look skyward, as if lost in the music, basking in it.

Kraemer kept it all under control with economical gestures. The perpetual-motion last movement flew. I admire violinists who play this piece. It must be carpal tunnel city, with the arm making all those minute movements. Koh looked as if it caused her no pain. The bravura ending had fine panache.

The concert’s second half returned to bombast, and stayed there. Miguel del Aguila’s “The Fall of Cuzco” was 20 minutes that went by fast. All dash and sparkle, the music — on the theme of gold and greed — is vigorous, evocative, melodic and completely enjoyable.

Del Aguila, on hand to address us, said that he composes by picturing images. I believe him. Listening to the music was like watching a movie. It is very visual, and it did seem to conjure up a distant time and place. It began with a sunrise, a shimmer of chimes, twinkly sounds and birdsong. Then it grew.

And grew. Like the opening Ginastera, this piece had some quiet moments — a poetic harp solo, the chirp of the flute. But it was all about infectious rhythms, glittery textures, growling brass and great crashing volume. Timpanist Matthew Bassett is burning some calories this weekend. He is on, nonstop.

Aaron Copland’s “Billy the Kid” continued the excitement. The orchestra played with subtlety and virtuosity but dominating the music was bombast and more timpani blasts. The most impressive barrage seemed to be suggesting a Wild West shootout. To be honest, by this time it was getting to be a bit much.

Then again there are worse problems for a concert to have than too much excitement.

“Barber Meets Billy the Kid” will repeat at 2:30 p. m. today.

Concert Review

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

“Samuel Barber Meets Billy the Kid,” part of the Classics Series. Saturday evening and at 2:30 p. m. today in Kleinhans Music Hall. For tickets, call 885-5000.

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