Pianist McDermott makes her mark

11.30.08
Anne-Marie McDermott
Buffalo News

Pianist Anne-Marie McDermott was in town Saturday, playing a double-header with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Resident Conductor Robert Franz in Kleinhans Music Hall. She played Ravel's Concerto in G and Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."

McDermott is a pro, and I mean that in a good way. She walks out on stage cheerily, jauntily, as if she is looking forward to what lies ahead.

During the performance, you can relax and enjoy the show. You don't have to worry that things are going to fly off the tracks. McDermott keeps mannerisms to a minimum, but she is not frozen in her seat. She glances at the audience now and then, stays alert and involved with the orchestra, and moves in time with the music. She seems comfortable. That is saying a big deal.

She did a good job of navigating through Ravel's Concerto in G. This piece places considerable demands on a pianist, not so much in the first and third movements, which have a lot going on in the orchestra, but in the long, lovely second movement. The idea behind the movement is beautiful, but it is a challenge for a pianist to give it shape and purpose.

Here, McDermott's confidence helped. She wasn't too slow or too timid. She displayed a fine singing tone, and the moments when the woodwinds finally began joining in were enchanting.

The outer movements were brash and exciting. Any pianist would revel in playing this with our orchestra, considering its knack for drama. McDermott's approach was dry like champagne, percussive at times, fearless. It was a lot of fun.

Poulenc's Sinfonietta followed intermission. This is the first time the orchestra has performed this piece, at least in a Classics concert, and it is a charmer. Franz and the orchestra clearly delighted in its glories - the expansive romanticism of the first movement, the dancing scherzo with its graceful, spacious middle section.

You can have fun detecting the shadows of all kinds of classical and romantic giants in the warm, lyrical third movement. And the finale, with its tributes to Haydn and Mozart, was irresistible.

The "Rhapsody in Blue," too, charmed from the word go - that is, from the dirty ascending opening line dished out by clarinetist John Fullam.

McDermott, sitting in the hallowed spot where Oscar Levant once sat and played this piece, was focused but also relaxed. She wasn't afraid to linger here and there, to enjoy those beautiful jazzy phrases, to put something of herself into the music. The Philharmonic's brass went wild, as you would expect, and the ending climax was well-paced and effective.

The concert opened with music from Gershwin's "An American in Paris," spotlighting lots of fine solo work from the musicians.