The concert music scene of Buffalo and Niagara just got an enormous boost with the inaugural performance of the newest kid-on-the-block, A Musical Feast. Founder & artistic director Charles Haupt has a vision that is simultaneously at odds and at one with his long and distinguished tenure as concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. After decades of leading his colleagues and a host of maestros through the large-orchestra repertoire (not infrequently serving as the “uncredited” assistant conductor), the tireless violinist has set his sights (and his listeners’ ears) on a course of harvesting small-ensemble gems and serving them up with performances that dig deep far beneath their apparent surface.
Given the wonderful buffet that comprised “Concert One,” the future looks rich indeed for those who savour the art and notoriously demanding challenges of “one-person-per-part” music.
First performed by Canadian violinist (and member of the Hart House string quartet) Adolph Koldofsky on the occasion of Schönberg’s 75th birthday, the Phantasy for Violin brought home the artists’ philosophy in a manner not possible from mere words. With a flow and grace that belied the treacherous writing, Haupt lifted the notes far off the page and imbued the frequently shifting lines with compelling emotional and dynamic range. Those scared off by the word “atonal” fail to understand that the composer’s harmonic world is never more than a café away from his Viennese roots with its marvellous froth and deep, if occasionally tart, flavours. Pianist Claudia Hoca was with Haupt at every turn and proved to be the ideal collaborator.
Hearing two performances of Britten’s Six Metamorphoses After Ovid (cross-reference below) in less than a month might well qualify as a record for critics. On this occasion, the original oboe made an exotic metamorphosis into silver, alto Pan Pipes brought to new life by Cheryl Gobbetti-Hoffman. “Pan” bewitched through every phrase; “Phaeton” was an intriguing mix of fluff and spite; “Niobe” was appropriately mellow as the buttery tone (no margarine here!) wafted effortlessly to the balcony. The slap-happy fun of “Bacchus” was only surpassed by Gobbetti-Hoffman’s indulgence in a tipsy sing-along; self-love oozed in a sultry, sombre manner as “Narcissus” reflected; “Arethusa” lifted off with promise but hit some unexpected turbulence along the way.
Jesse Levine was the convincing protagonist in Arnold Bax’s Legend. Completed in 1929, but revised in 1945 (composers really aught to leave things alone and go “on to the next”—cross-reference below), the music is accessibleat once. Levine’s solid approach was a study of understatement, passion and control, only slightly marred by a few excursions to the far side of pitch. With Hoca once more leading and supporting as required, the balance was excellent—more matter-of-course than laboured—again demonstrating her too-seldom-heard ability as une vrai accompagnatrice.
The Mozart Duo was a special treat. Watching Haupt and Levine traverse the classical landscape was like spying on friends who speak in a language of their own (complete with inside jokes) but whose life-long musical experiences flooded the Kavinoky Theatre with much-appreciated happiness and joy.
Like the Britten in the first half, Ysaÿe’s E Minor Solo Sonata leaves the performer as seul as it gets. Charles Castleman drove through the score with surety and conviction (notably the Sarabande’s pizzicati and harmonics were tossed off with deceptive ease), but the music couldn’t shake its étude hue and chien chaud histrionics.
The only trio of the night held the audience from the first measure. Like the day’s spring sunshine, the parlour-room set (the theatre is currently running A.R. Gurney’s The Cocktail Hour) proved ideal for the suspension of disbelief that we were at the première. At one point in the heady “Scherzo”, Levine as Dvorák’s substitute, got so carried away that he tossed his bow in glee! Their journey to Bohemia was not without a few bumps along the way, but the quest for excellence was never in doubt.
With the first feast now under their belts, everyone involved (on both sides of the stage) looks forward to the next helping with eager anticipation. JWR