Marcelo Lehninger Replaces James Levine Conducting the BSO With Excellent Assurance

United StatesUnited States Haydn, Turnage & R. Strauss: Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet) Boston Symphony Orchestra, Marcelo Lehninger (BSO Assistant Conductor), Symphony Hall, Boston. 7.1.2012 (KH)

Haydn: Symphony No. 88 in G
Turnage: From the Wreckage (American première)
R. Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra, Opus 30

In this interregnum, while the Boston Symphony diligently searches for a new music director (and wishing Maestro Levine a full recovery, as soon as the Fates may allow), it is my pleasure to report that the band are holding in splendid form.

The adventures continue to compound in this season, to be sure: this particular program was to have been led by guest conductor Andris Nelsons (whose wife delivered their first child on 28 December). BSO Assistant Conductor Marcelo Lehninger substituted with excellent assurance.

For the C major symphony (No. 90) originally slated, Lehninger substituted the G major, and a charming choice it is. (Both works fall between the “Paris” and “London” symphonies, respectively Nos. 82-87 and Nos. 93-104 – and for that reason a Haydn expert friend in Texas has dubbed them the “Chunnel” symphonies.) The virtues of the 88th are many, from the vigor of the first movement’s horn, the exquisitely simple theme to the Largo, the “dudelsack” drone to the Trio of the Menuetto, to the invigorating final rondo. If there were times when the resonance of Symphony Hall made one aware that we were hearing Haydn’s music in a grander space than any he may have ever known, we had the compensation of hearing the BSO on top of their form playing first-rank Haydn. This can’t be bad.

Trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger brought three instruments out with him to play From the Wreckage by Mark-Anthony Turnage, a piece laid out perhaps a bit tidily in roughly equal thirds, with the soloist gradually taking up progressively brighter instruments. Hardenberger and the orchestra seemed to enjoy the collaboration, and the realization of the score was unstrained. Of the three sections, my favorite was probably the first, perhaps because of a partiality to the flugelhorn; but it was also there that I felt the composer had best succeeded in showing some depth of vision between the flugelhorn and the orchestra.

The Strauss is a rich and engaging work, and made for a smashing conclusion to an overall excellent concert. An especial kudos to the woodwinds: in the upper tessitura, there are chords which can be a tuning challenge – like famous passages in the Mendelssohn Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture, and the Brahms Third Symphony – but our ladies and gentlemen handled them adroitly. The strings continued to sound marvelously sweet in the many-divided scoring; the Wissenschaft fugue was particularly vivid.

The orchestra responded to – and cooperated with – Lehninger splendidly, and I look forward to further concerts under his direction.

Karl Henning