Ravel and Strauss, in Falletta’s wheelhouse, what an orchestra, what a venue, BPO at KMH Saturday 7:30pm

THE BASICS: JoAnn Falletta conducts the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at Kleinhans Music Hall in a program titled “Don Quixote” featuring Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole and Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote.  Friday morning’s “Coffee Concert” repeats Saturday, March 2, at 7:30 pm. (716) 885-5000 or

Runtime: Under two hours with one intermission

For a preview of the concert with comments by the BPO’s Roman Mekinulov written by Buffalo Rising’s Daniel Lendzian, click here.

I’ve always thought that BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta excelled at conducting music composed shortly before and after World War I, give or take, mostly by composers born right around 1880, give or take.  A look at her discography (CDs released) reveals names such as Kodaly (born 1882), Scriabin (1872) Florent Schmitt (1870) and Franz Schmidt (1874) Wiener (1885) Pizzetti (1880) Schreker (1878) Tcherepnin (1899) and Tyberg (1893).  That group has many names, sometimes “post-romantic,” sometimes “impressionist,” and sometimes “modernist” (although certainly not “modern” in the sense of angular serial music). 

Music by those composers is in Falletta’s wheelhouse and you can tell it’s a sweet spot for her.  But none of the names above are as iconic and seminal as Ravel (born 1875) whose name is synonymous with “impressionism” or Richard Strauss (1864) whose opening bars of “Don Juan” are said to usher in the sound of modernism. 

So, as Falletta picked up the microphone she told us that the theme of the concert was “Spanish Music” although (as she admitted with a shy smile) composed by a Frenchman and a German.  But I think the theme was, as it so often is, “Listen to all the talented soloists that make up this orchestra as we listen to music by two master orchestrators who understood how to make new sounds that would create a whole school of composition.”  Okay, maybe that’s a little long to put on a poster, but you get my drift.

The concert began with Ravel’s Raspsodie espanole, composed in 1908, in which, over four movements in 15 minutes sweeps you and swirls you around the orchestra.  And what a huge orchestra, with two flutes and also two piccolos while nearby is the very deep contra-bassoon and the bass clarinet.  Talk about contrast!  Add two harps and the new celeste for some tinkly upper notes, plus seven (count ‘em) percussionists plus tympani, not to mention gorgeous English Horn solos, and this one is a winner.  

Most conductors attack the Rapsodie but Falletta lets it build slowly.  She’s in no rush.  The music can speak for itself.

As I listened, I was struck for the first time by how much it sounded like Ravel’s La Valse which takes the waltz and pulverizes it (a reaction to his time as an ambulance driver seeing the horrors of World War I up close).  It’s hard to listen to La Valse.  I don’t really like it.  But you can get all of the pleasure of that work without the pain in Rapsodie Espanole. 

Before the concert we were asked to remain in our seats after the Ravel and before intermission and, after a little reorganization on stage, out came the primary soloist for Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote, the BPO’s principal cellist Roman Mekinulov.  And, alternating between picking up the mic and picking up her baton, Falletta walked us through the main themes of Don Quixote as we met Don Alonzo (the gentleman who sank into insanity and became Don Quixote) played by violinist Nikki Chooi; and Sancho Panza, played on the viola by BPO Caroline Gilbert; and the monks (two bassoons), and the sheep (brass), and the flying horse (a strange contraption that imitates the wind), and Don Quixote’s idealized lady, Dulcinea (her sweet theme takes the whole orchestra).  That was fun and it helped to enjoy the larger, 40-minute work after the intermission.

Everyone was in fine form and the audience was more than appreciative, with many curtain calls for JoAnn and the soloists.  I’ll give you just one more reason to go, and that’s to hear the BPO’s Caroline Gilbert play the viola.  It must be difficult to make that instrument “sing out” because most players make it sound scratchy.  Never with Gilbert.  You’ll be amazed that there will be many moments when you can’t tell if you’re listening to the upper register of the cello or the viola.  

Kleinhans Music Hall is at “3 Symphony Circle” Buffalo, 14201 where Porter Avenue, Richmond Avenue, North Street and Wadsworth meet at a traffic circle.  Visit or call 716-885-5000.  Full-service bar in the lobby or across the lobby in the Mary Seaton Room.  Masks are optional.

Lead image: Wilhelm Marstrand, Don Quixote og Sancho Panza ved en skillevej, uden datering (efter 1847), Nivaagaards Malerisamling

The post Ravel and Strauss, in Falletta’s wheelhouse, what an orchestra, what a venue, BPO at KMH Saturday 7:30pm appeared first on Buffalo Rising.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *