Review: Marcelo Lehninger and the SLSO show their virtuosity with music of Hindemith, Prokofiev, and Mussorgsky/Ravel
By Chuck Lavazzi
For some years now, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) has been bringing younger guest conductors to town to make their local debuts on the Powell Hall stage. Every one of them has been very impressive, in my experience, leaving me with real hope about the future of classical music.
This weekend was no exception, as Brazilian-born Marcelo Lehninger made his first St. Louis appearance on Friday, November 22nd with an evening of music that showcased the virtuosity of both piano soloist Simon Trpceski and the members of the SLSO. Despite having to conduct from a chair because of a recently broken foot, Mr. Lehninger was a strong physical presence on the podium, leading the band in dynamic and insightful performances of this highly varied program.
He also had one of the most striking conductor entrances I have ever seen, gliding on stage on a small scooter that supported his temporarily disabled pedal extremity.
The concert opened with work that the SLSO presented for the first and (until this weekend) only time back in 1970: the “Concert Music for Strings and Brass,” Op. 10, by Paul Hindemith. Composed in response to a commission by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1930, “Concert Music” is a product of what is often called the composer’s “neoclassical” phase, although the densely contrapuntal texture really harks back to the Baroque era. Combine that texture with the unusual orchestration of a dozen brass instruments (four horns, four trumpets, three trombones, and a tuba) plus strings, and you have the potential for serious balance issues that could make the individual melodic lines hard to hear.
Happily, that wasn’t the case Friday night. The strings got overwhelmed a bit at the beginning, but overall Mr. Lehninger made it easy to discern the individual threads of Hindemith’s musical tapestry and got some excellent playing from the orchestra in the process.
Speaking of Mr. Lehninger, he was once again a strong physical presence, clearly enjoying every moment of this work and putting his own personal stamp of this very familiar material without taking undue liberties. His take on the opening “Promenade” was magisterial. His “Gnomus” snarled and threatened. His decision to have the alto sax fade out slowly at the end of “The Old Castle” added a touch of sadness to the troubadour’s voice. And his take on the closing “Great Gate of Kiev” had a degree of subtlety and marked dynamic contrast not always heard in this exultant finale. It was an altogether winning and captivating reading, garnering enthusiastic “bravos” from the crowd.