Reviewed by Lee Shepherd
Tricky? Undoubtedly, but the difficult music played by the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra on Halloween Eve was a real treat for the mind and heart. The second concert in the BPO’s 2010-11 Classical Series featured Italian concert pianist Fabio Bidini performing Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Debussy’s Petite Suite and Elgar’s complete Enigma Variations, 14 musical caricatures of Elgar’s friends and family and their quirky mannerisms.
Bidini played with a gorgeous warm tone at all levels,employing a simple, declarative touch. There were no crashing fortes, and many subtle, quiet passages. His articulation was crystal clear throughout. The BPO, conducted by Maestro Jose-Luis Novo, was right there providing sensitive accompaniment like chamber musician partners. The result? A seamless blend of soloist and orchestra, especially in the third movement, with its virtuoso piano passages that invite the orchestra to respond.
Bidini saved his showmanship for curtain calls. While the audience stood and the applause thundered, he bear-hugged Novo and shook the hands of principal players all around.
Literally a suite treat (sorry about the pun!), the Debussy piece evoked scenes from two poems by Verlaine, full of shimmery and iridescent sound. BPO musicians might well have wielded paint brushes – they deftly drew pictures of boaters skimming over deep, dark waters; they sketched stately Renaissance dancers flirting shamelessly; they produced impressionistic scenes of ballet dancers extending long arms and pirouetting in dizzying circles.
And for the candy icing on the cake, the Enigma Variations were masterfully rendered by the orchestra. The story is told that Elgar, returning home from giving violin lessons, sat down at the piano and to unwind, began improvising. His wife commented favorably on the tune that emerged and Elgar responded by suggesting how certain of their friends might play it. Out of that spontaneous exchange grew the idea of the Enigma Variations. This work secured Elgar instant fame, a reputation as a composer of national, even international, standing. It also brought British composers into the forefront of musical history, a place they hadn’t enjoyed since the time of Purcell and his ilk, according to Novo.
The BPO’s vital, strong, hyper-sensitive performance of the “Nimrod” variation, honoring Elgar’s great friend, editor and motivator A.J. Jaeger, was a highlight of the evening. The cello section, ably headed by Hakan Tayga-Hromek, shone brightly in the variation honoring one of Elgar’s cellist friends. The entire work was finely interpreted by the BPO, with dramatic flair, ebullience and great charm.
Three curtain calls and another standing ovation later, the audience spilled out of the Anderson Center at Binghamton University, happy as the horde of treat or treaters who a night later would roam the streets.
Tributes paid at concert
At the concert, Maestro Novo paid tribute to Vincent Smith (clarinet II) and Meyer Stolov (violin), who retired from the orchestra at the end of last season. They were both longtime members of the orchestra. Also honored was the late Florence Niermeyer, a member of the board and secretary of the Binghamton Philharmonic. Niermeyer, who died in October, was a major supporter of the BPO. She and her husband, David, endowed the principal viola chair in the orchestra.