The boldface title in the BPO program said “Paganini’s Violin” and that was appropriate.
Even though Antonin Dvorák’s oeuvre contributed two out of the three pieces on Friday night’s concert, his pair of works - the “Carnival Overture” and the Czech composer’s Symphony no. 6 - acted more as a framing device for Nicolo Paganini’s first violin concerto.
At one point in his career Paganini noted that he “composed difficult music, constantly studying the difficulties I had invented in order to master them.” To read the reviews and commentary by his contemporaries is to be made aware of just how formidable a musician he was.
Hearing Francisco Fullana seamlessly play the difficult wonders Paganini wove throughout his first violin concerto, especially in the first movement cadenza where the orchestra sat out as the soloist glided with deceptive ease through a fast-paced murderer’s row of double stops, glissandos, and harmonics, was frighteningly awesome.
Listening to all of these challenges performed with such skill on one of the most glorious sounding, historically important instruments – the 1735 “Mary Portman” Guarneri del Gesu violin formerly owned by Fritz Kreisler and now on loan to Fullana from Buffalo’s Clement and Karen Arrison – fully justified the program’s focus.
Conductor Hans Graf led the BPO through the Paganini thickets with considerable elan and grace while devoting an equal measure of attention to Dvorak’s delightfully bracing “Carnival Overture” and his lovely, folk-inflected Symphony no. 6.
While Dvorák’s sixth symphony has drawn comparisons to Johannes Brahms’ second symphony (also in D major), the “Carnival Overture” is closer in energy to that ascribed to Richard Wagner albeit without what Marin Alsop once referred to as the latter’s “drama of extremes.”
There’s a “bounce” to the symphony’s score - especially in the third movement scherzo - which can be ascribed to Dvorák’s use of Bohemian dance rhythms, something that Graf and the BPO highlighted most delightfully.
It really wasn’t a surprise, given the quality performances given on Saturday night, that standing ovations were given by the audience, especially for Fullana’s work in the Paganini concerto.
Also worth noting was the pre-concert conversation between Graf, Fullana and BPO violist Janz Castelo. Both the program and the musician’s dialog session will be reprised on Sunday with the conversation beginning an hour before the 2:30 pm concert.