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Music Review: An Old Hand at Only 26

Leonidas Kavakos
The New York Times

Lionel Bringuier Leads Philharmonic by Himself

By Anthony Tommasini

The precocious French conductor Lionel Bringuier, all of 26, took the podium at Avery Fisher Hall on Thursday to lead the New York Philharmonic in an impressive program. It is not often that a conductor of any age can bring out the musically daring elements of a crowd pleaser like Dukas’s “Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” To those who remember Mr. Bringuier from his New York debut in 2008, when he conducted the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, also at Avery Fisher Hall, he must have seemed almost a seasoned maestro in comparison. He has certainly been rising fast, making appearances with major international orchestras. He takes over as chief conductor of the distinguished Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich next year and is just completing his sixth and final season as resident conductor with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Mr. Bringuier made his official debut with the New York Philharmonic in 2009, conducting the chamber ensemble in Britten’s “War Requiem,” a performance led overall by Lorin Maazel. But this was his first time conducting the full orchestra on his own.

Though small-framed, Mr. Bringuier is kinetic and charismatic on the podium. It took a kind of courage to open with “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” a work inspired by a Goethe ballad that will forever be associated with the 1940 Disney film “Fantasia,” with Mickey Mouse as the hapless apprentice. There was no trace of nostalgia and very little kid stuff in this compelling performance. The mysterious opening section, with the magic chords and hazy textures, seemed genuinely ominous. In the episode that depicts the walking broom carting buckets of water, Mr. Bringuier kept the tempo mostly reined in and brought out the music’s dark colorings and rhythmic relentlessness. He highlighted the buzzing inner voices and lush harmonic details in the scherzo.

Mr. Bringuier was then joined by the formidable violinist Leonidas Kavakos for a brilliant account of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor. Mr. Kavakos’s playing combines utter mastery of the instrument with rich sound and searching musicianship. He brought a questioning quality to the opening solo phrases, signaling that he was intent on revealing the complexities, both musical and emotional, beneath the Neo-Classical surface of this 1935 work.

In the first movement, when episodes of busy passagework for the violin break out, the music often sounds like an insistent toccata. But Mr. Kavakos and Mr. Bringuier brought out the uneasy restlessness of these episodes.

Mr. Kavakos also teased out the quizzical strands and shifting moods of the deceptively tranquil slow movement. And he was dazzling in the rustic, dancing finale. Mr. Bringuier drew comparably incisive and colorful playing from the Philharmonic.

After intermission Mr. Bringuier conducted an animated account of Kodaly’s “Dances of Galanta” (1933). For all its Gypsy dance character and tart harmonic writing, this is a lightweight work. Mr. Bringuier’s program, which ended with Stravinsky’s Suite from “The Firebird,” would have benefited from at least one recent piece to show us how he grapples with truly contemporary music. That said, the performance of “The Firebird,” except for some occasional careless execution, especially in the brass, was lucid, urgent and exciting.