Anyone who came to hear the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra play Wednesday night in its debut at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center would have thought the audience was a large hometown crowd.
Certainly, some of the audience came from Buffalo to support its beloved orchestra. And for good reason: Not only did the orchestra sound brilliant in a program that was sure to please, but conductor JoAnn Falletta knows how to get the most from the players and brought concertmaster Michael Ludwig as the soloist — a violinist well known to SPAC audiences from his days with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The program was an especially friendly one: Smetana’s overture to “The Bartered Bride,” Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 (“Turkish”) and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”). The orchestra was surefooted, brilliantly precise, light-fingered, and wonderfully together. Every note was in place. Every phrase was finished. They played with exuberance, freshness and an enviable tight ensemble. Pitch was never an issue.
Thanks in large part for all this goes to Falletta. She knows what she wants to hear, and with only a bit of coaxing, she gets it. Her stick technique is efficient, her cues were sure. What impressed was the degree of control she has, particularly over the many and subtle dynamic levels. There was also a transparency to the orchestra’s sound. It was as if each of the sections could be heard despite whether the violins had the melody or the secondary voices were in the brass. Nothing was clouded.
She also conducted with a strong musical intelligence. Pacing was thoughtful whether the tempos were particularly brisk or traditional. Consequently, the orchestra sounded both mellow and scintillating.
The Smetana was especially brisk. The quick technical passages in the strings, which were so precise they sounded like one player, sparkled. Overall, it was a buoyant reading.
Ludwig satisfied with the strength of his musicality, his sweet yet robust tone and his always facile and accurate technique. His phrases sang in this favorite concerto. He took a chamber music approach, often seeming to share a thought or two with the string orchestra, which gave him superb support. His cadenzas by the famed Joseph Joachim were virtuosic displays that did not overwhelm the Mozart. It was exquisite playing.
Dvorak’s symphony is a cornucopia of melodies, challenges for the players and is much loved by audiences. Falletta set generally traditional tempos that allowed the colors and players’ brilliance to shine. The English horn solo in the second movement was beautiful without being sentimental. Phrases were caressed. Ensemble work was impressive with edged tones and a uniformity of conception.
The finale was stalwart with an opening brisk tempo that set off the slower tuneful passages. It ended with an expansive sweep of sound that brought the audience to a standing ovation with cheers and whistles. An encore was given: Brahms’ lush, dark and swirling “Hungarian Dance.” It was a marvelous sorbet.
Next week, it will be the Philadelphia Orchestra’s turn.