Today's Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concert was intended to be an all-Russian program, but the orchestra scrapped Glinka’s overture to Ruslan and Ludmila and replaced it with the Ukrainian national anthem, played with both musicians and audience standing to honor the citizens of Ukraine. 

Alexander Malofeev
© Liudmila Malofeeva

With the remainder of the program continuing as originally envisioned, pianist Alexander Malofeev joined the orchestra in presenting Prokofiev's Piano Concerto no. 3 in C major. Even though it has a conventional three-movement structure, the writing is anything but conventional or routine; the piano part is quite a tour de force, which is likely why so many top pianists love performing it. Today’s performance makes clear that the young Malofeev possesses the technical chops to navigate the challenging piano part with all the dexterity and stamina Prokofiev demands. But the other challenge is giving equal voice to lyricism, all while maintaining a balanced partnership with the orchestra. In the first movement Andante-Allegro, effective give-and-take with the Buffalo players was on display and the virtuoso passages were undeniably thrilling, but were the pyrotechnics being used as a means of expression or as an end in itself? I wasn't so sure... 

But then in the middle theme and variations movement, taken a bit slower in tempo than usual, we heard a different side of the pianist in which he coaxed extra measures of nuance from the score. It's clearly evident that Malofeev has put much thought into these variations, several of which were mesmerizing in their effect. Virtuosity returned in spades in a final movement that Prokofiev famously described as an “argument” between soloist and orchestra. Malofeev made it an über-exciting journey just this side of breathless. Similarly effective was JoAnn Falletta's leadership, maintaining frequent eye contact with the soloist. In the end, this was a very satisfying Prokofiev 3. Malofeev has already made great strides in making this concerto his own; one can only imagine how this concerto will continue evolve in the hands of this gifted artist. I, for one, can’t wait to find out. As an encore, Malofeev treated the appreciative audience to the final Precipitato movement from Prokofiev’s Seventh Piano Sonata, as thrilling a ride through this perpetuum mobile of a piece as one could ever hope to hear. 

Following intermission, Falletta and the Buffalo players presented Scriabin's Symphony no. 2 in C minor. It’s a work in the composer's early style but with flashes of what would soon follow, particularly in the surging chromatic language that permeates portions of the symphony. For those who are more familiar with the mysticism exhibited in Scriabin's later works, this symphony might come across as almost quaint, but that doesn't make the music unimpressive in its own right and this performance helped make the case most strongly. 

In the opening Andante the core thematic material was presented with a yearning quality, while the Allegro that followed was full of nervous energy. The instrumentation in the central Andante movement is crystalline, remindful of Glazunov and Glière, with even a nod to impressionism. Falletta teased out all those aspects to reveal a gleaming gem. The final two sections of the symphony can be challenging to pull off successfully, but Falletta and the BPO delivered a terrifically exciting Tempestoso while turning the final march-like Maestoso – which can sound almost hackneyed in the hands of some interpreters – into an absolute triumph.