Concert Review | Boston Symphony Orchestra shines under Marcelo Lehninger’s conducting
Conductor Lehninger, violinist Joshua Bell deliver seamless performance
Published: Monday, October 15, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 15, 2012 08:10
Boston Symphony Orchestra assistant conductor Marcelo Lehninger directed an outstanding rendition of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” at Symphony Hall on Oct. 4, despite his overly extravagant conducting style. It was a refreshing return to Tchaikovsky since Lehninger’s failed performance of the composer’s Sixth Symphony “Pathetique” last fall.
During “Romeo and Juliet,” Lehninger was both expressive and emotive. At certain points in the score the conductor could have easily been casting a spell, challenging the principal cellist to a duel or partaking in an interpretative modern dance.
The overture featured rich texture and a controlled yet passionate musical verve. The development of the famous Shakespearean love theme felt appropriately structured. Its reprise was never stagnant, instead presenting new variations that were exquisitely executed. The fourth return of the main theme introduced a crisp and clear brass counterpoint, a difficult feat for such a heavily layered piece. This love theme was starkly juxtaposed with the Montague−Capulet battle section of the music signaled in by crashing cymbals. As the journey of Romeo and Juliet came to a close, a final move back into a major key appropriately concluded the piece.
The other concerto played that night was Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade for Solo Violin, String Orchestra, Harp and Percussion,” featuring Joshua Bell on violin. This piece was inspired by Plato’s “Symposium,” an ancient philosophical text in which seven characters discuss the power of love. As in Plato’s original work, there was a clear dialogue among the different parts of the orchestra in the “Serenade,” and also a definitive voice for Bell’s violin. After his masterful presentation of Schubert’s “Fantasie in C for Violin and Piano” and two Grieg Violin Sonatas last year, the audience’s expectations for Bell were high. True to form, Bell delivered an excellent performance.
The first movement of the “Serenade,” “Phaedrus; Pausanias,” began with Bell playing a fugato. Here, Bernstein confuses the audience by vacillating in the first movement — initially, he seems unable to decide if the piece should feel sinister or tender. Lehninger was eager to bring out this ironic nature, noticeably distinguishing between both qualities in the first movement. However, these broken melodies did nothing to assuage the frustration of the listeners as the music struggled to gravitate towards a solid idea.
In the second movement, “Aristophanes,” Bell demonstrated his skill with a punctuated yet clear passage that resembled a lullaby. Variations in the third movement allowed him to exchange passages back and forth with the orchestra, making this yet another musical manifestation of Plato’s literary dialogue.
The following “Eryximachus” movement was brisk with a tempo marking of presto. Its rhythm was reminiscent of an Argentine tango and its character was aptly melancholic. The pervasive woodwind arpeggios created a feeling of floating and ultimately contributed to an even more ethereal musical aura.
The fourth movement, “Agathon,” was lyrical and effusive, somewhat similar to Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings.” In the fifth movement, “Socrates; Alcibiades,” Bell’s musical conversation with the principal cellist turned into an argument in which Bell’s biting tone became musically suitable. A surprisingly reserved cadenza gave way to a jazzy walking bass. The piece ended both abruptly and ominously, concluding before the argument between violin and cello could be resolved.
Although Bell provided effortless and virtuoso playing, it was Lehninger who brought the piece together. Not many conductors can express such diverse characters, ranging from a sinister first movement to an elegiac fourth movement. Lehninger’s conducting through the Tchaikovsky overture and the Bernstein concerto, two completely different styles of music, demonstrates his versatility as a conductor. Alongside Lehninger’s interpretative dance, the Boston Symphony Orchestra played brilliantly.