This program by JoAnn Falletta and members of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra encompassed music of the classical, romantic and modern eras centered on the theme of "remembrance." Anton Arensky's Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky for string orchestra is based on a children's hymn-like song that is well known to anyone familiar with the choral traditions of the Lenten season. Each of Arensky's variations has its special qualities. Particularly enchanting in this BPO performance were the dancelike second variation featuring skittering upper strings, and the pastoral variation that followed. The offbeat pizzicato of the fourth variation was masterfully done, while Falletta's fifth variation made one think of the young Sibelius. The final variation, with its ingenious "inverted" treatment of the theme, was sheer poetry. In all, this magical performance turned the Arensky into its own special adventure.

JoAnn Falletta conducts the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
© Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

Lucas Drew's string orchestra arrangement of Shostakovich's Eighth String Quartet followed, a work of great emotion and intensity that reflects public and private wars – public in Shostakovich's dedication on the score to the victims of fascism, and private in the composer's challenges in his own artistic life. The piece is so autobiographical, there are musical quotations from no fewer than a half-dozen other Shostakovich compositions.

Under Falletta's direction, the elegiac opening brought out the poetry inherent in the music, giving way to the incessantly powerful agitato of the Allegro molto with the Buffalo strings playing at full throttle. The quirky waltz movement was particularly effective in the score's rhythmic accents, but the overall effect was haunting. The fourth section went from haunting to harrowing with its overt suggestions of gunfire and droning aircraft. This performance brought out those details in ways that were particularly sinister, but the beautiful cello solo (a quotation from Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) served as balm, as did the final elegy. It was a moving performance that worked on multiple emotional levels.

JoAnn Falletta conducts the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
© Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

Haydn's Symphony no. 44 in E minor “Trauer” concluded the concert. It's best known for its third movement Adagio, which was such a favorite of the composer that he requested it be played at his own funeral service. He got his wish, sort of: although not performed at his funeral, it was presented at a later memorial service in Berlin. The slow third movement is the emotional highlight of the symphony, unusually one which is in a minor key everywhere except in that movement. Outside of the idyllic atmosphere of the Adagio, beautifully captured, it's mainly full-on energy everywhere else, sometimes nervous and sometimes severe. In the hands of some interpreters, the oft-repeated four-note motif in the first movement Allegro con brio can come dangerously close to boredom, but thankfully this was not the case here. A Minuet in a minor key might seem to be a misnomer, but here again it was carried off successfully. The final Presto was full-throated and full-bodied, making one wish that the symphony would end in a major key – but evidently Papa Haydn had other ideas. Regardless, Falletta and the BPO players made the best possible case for one of the more curious of Haydn's symphonies.

A late addition to the concert was the Trio for Brass by American composer David Uber. Presented at the beginning of the program, this engaging three-movement work was played with panache by Sheryl Hadeka on French horn, trumpeter Geoffrey Hardcastle, and trombonist Tim Smith. It was pleasant diversion, helpfully reminding us of the quality artists that make up the famous Buffalo brass section.


This performance was reviewed from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's video stream

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