Reviews


Marcelo Lehninger Impressive in his HSO Audition

By Jeffrey Johnson
Hartford Courant
Friday, November 5, 2010

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra continued its 2010-2011 Masterworks Series in the Belding Theater, at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford Thursday with a program that featured guest conductor and music director candidate Marcelo Lehninger leading the orchestra.

Lehninger was quiet and unassuming during his preconcert talk. He gave simple overviews of the pieces then answered questions. He was relaxed and he projected warmness.

But his musical persona was commanding and precise. Lehninger has ideas. His rhythmic sense is enchanting, and his stick technique is extremely varied and non-repetitive. He projected clear subdivisions that allowed the orchestra to voice figuration, even within rubato, with incredible precision. The Hartford Symphony Orchestra sounded different from the way they sounded with any other conducting candidate we have heard so far. It is a sound that is full of potential.

Lehninger began the program with the Fantasy-Overture to Romeo and Juliet by Tchaikovsky. He led a detailed, carefully wrought performance that projected quiet and focused textures. This tendency made the loud passages in the fighting music and other climactic writing seem powerful and resonant.

The syncopations that fuel the development had edge and carried us steadily toward scorching string playing as we entered the recapitulation. Collisions between the famous love music and the fighting music were handled with perfectly spliced attitudes, and the piece ended in delicacy and lightness.

Soprano Christina Pier joined the orchestra as soloist in the rarely played Shéhérazade written by Ravel. These three songs lie low in the voice and are more frequently sung by mezzo sopranos. Pier was up to the significant challenges of this music and has a gorgeous voice. But while there were effective passages her focus was too often directed into her score to make proper contact with us in these deeply personal texts.

Lehninger once again broke out a compendium of subdivisions and patterns and gave this elusive music a solid rhythmic foundation for the orchestra to expand upon; and once again they sounded great. This work by Ravel is about half-shades and shadow, and this was a convincing performance.

After intermission we heard Rimsky-Korsakov`s Scheherazade. This extremely familiar work is something of a concerto for orchestra, not only because almost every instrument has stunningly beautiful solos, but also that the solos are completely exposed. It is also something of a concerto for conductor, because it has many tempo changes and rubato through tricky rhythms — in the wrong hands the work can quickly become a mess.

Lehninger had more surprises for us. He conducted the third movement without baton, using both hands to shape the sound in caresses. He used a lovely motion with both hands to allow the final sound of the third movement to dissolve in the open air. He took a fast tempo in the finale and the orchestra responded with thrilling precision. The performance showed how chamber music and orchestral playing can integrate.

Leonid Sigal played the solo violin lines that seem to narrate the atmosphere of the work with tenderness and fire as needed. He set the stage for inspired solo playing —bassoon, flute, clarinet, oboe, the entire brass section, percussion, and harp — all sounded fabulous. There were so many effective solos that it was hard to choreograph all the bows that were deserved at the close of the work.

Lehninger conducted with logic and passion. His style was not flamboyant but the music he produced sounded young and vibrant. He showed us three very different musical styles impressing each time. The program ended in ovation. Lehninger has the unusual combination of experience, youth and musical potential. He could lead this orchestra.

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