There hasn’t been a buzz lately about a concert in the local classical scene like there was for this one. It was his first stepping out from first chair, a time to show what he’s got on his own. He didn’t disappoint any patrons in the packed main worship space in the Mt. Lebanon synagogue, presented by its Diskin Music Fund.
With PSO keyboardist Rodrigo Ojeda at the piano, Mr. Bendix-Balgley opened with Stravinsky’s “Suite Italienne,” the delightful Baroque-infused arrangement of the composer’s ballet “Pulcinella.” He offered measured phrasing with a bright tone (except for a luxurious darkness on the low G string). His tight vibrato was reminiscent of Golden Age string playing, and so was the subtle slide he made into certain notes. At times he played with such lithe smoothness that the image of a water bug skating effortlessly over the surface came to mind.
His command of the instrument was evident throughout, but most so in his fiery reading of Brahms’ Scherzo in C minor from the “F.A.E.” Sonata.
An almost sobbing rendition of “Hebrew Melody,” penned by a relatively unknown Russian, Joseph Achron, soared through the hall like a cantor’s song. Then came that measuring-stick of a piece, the Franck Violin Sonata in A major. Mr. Bendix-Balgley said he viewed it as describing married life. Even though he is not married, it was a compelling vision. He backed it up with a performance alternately dramatic and lyrical — but always with a treatment of the score that could be described as musically tight to the vest of the composer’s intention even as it was superbly dressed in exquisite timbre.
In a way, this was a performance that many expected, especially the many members of the PSO in attendance. I was in that camp, but Mr. Bendix-Balgley’s eloquent speaking about the program on stage surprised me. He explained the background of the works clearly and concisely, with a easygoing manner that made it feel that he was talking just to me. Let’s hope we see some of that at Heinz Hall, to add to the musicality we hear every week.