With Tchaikovsky, a new BSO assistant conductor makes poised debut

By Jeremy Eichler
The Boston Globe
Friday, October 22, 2010

The BSO`s two new assistant conductors, Marcelo Lehninger and Sean Newhouse, have arrived in town and taken up work in Symphony Hall. Their predecessors saw more action than anticipated thanks to last-minute substitutions for James Levine. But BSO assistants also lead the orchestra as part of the regularly scheduled subscription season, and last night the 31-year-old Brazilian-born Lehninger made his local debut with the orchestra.

His program gave away little of his personal tastes as it was dominated by two repertory staples — Beethoven`s Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky`s Fifth Symphony — but he at least

introduced himself with Barber`s less frequently heard "School for Scandal`` Overture, drawing lively playing from the orchestra with a clear, efficient, and unshowy technique.

A fuller view of his conducting had to wait until after intermission, as the night`s celebrity soloist, Pinchas Zukerman, quickly took the spotlight.

Zukerman is a naturally gifted string player who seems to approach most music these days with an air of nonchalance. One of his most distinctive traits is his ability to draw enormous amounts of tone from the instrument without compromising the quality of the sound. His Beethoven last night coasted along on that plush, well-cushioned tone, and at various points he dipped into his sizable reserves of virtuoso firepower.

For example, he tore through Kreisler`s first movement cadenza, spraying notes into the hall and seemingly aiming for speed and muscularity above all else. He filled the slow movement with an easygoing, broad-shouldered lyricism and brought an appealing sense of spontaneity to moments of the Rondo. Beethoven`s charms were everywhere apparent, but I found myself wondering what Zukerman might sound like if he still had something burningly personal to say through this music.

Lehninger was impressively poised in the Tchaikovsky and maintained good musical contact with the orchestra. He drew an intriguingly dark and mysterious tone from the lower strings to open the Andante cantabile, and moments in the outer movements crackled with electricity. But this performance still had plenty of room to grow. It needed more space around the notes, more specificity in its expressive ideas, and more long distance shaping of phrases and dynamics in order for the climaxes to land with full force. For its part, the orchestra played brilliantly for Lehninger. Judging from the ovation in the hall, the crowd was behind him, too.

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