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Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Tugan Sokhiev makes his Boston Symphony Orchestra debut in two programs.

Tugan Sokhiev makes his Boston Symphony Orchestra debut in two programs.

 Tugan Sokhiev conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra on April 19, 2018, the first of two concerts that mark his BSO debut. Jan Lisiecki solos in the first Chopin concerto. Hilary Scott photograph.

Tugan Sokhiev conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra on April 19, 2018, the first of two concerts that mark his BSO debut. Jan Lisiecki solos in the first Chopin concerto. Hilary Scott photograph.

The past two weeks of Boston Symphony Orchestra programs have featured the Symphony Hall debut of Tugan Sokhiev. The Russian conductor currently holds music directorships at the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, and the Bolshoi Theatre. He has extensive opera experience as well, and long relationships with various European orchestras.

His appearances in multiple programs signals that his BSO debut is overdue. Sokhiev brought a freshness to the podium, a populist manner that mirrors the BSO’s current musical director’s style. But he also flavored it in his own versatile way.

His first program (April 19-24) was part frivolity, part curiosity. The frivolity (it seems so because of so much heavy lifting at Symphony Hall recently: Mahler 3, Adams Scheherazade.2, Shostakovich 4, Tristan) came in Benjamin Britten’s “Simple Symphony,” and Mendelssohn’s Italian symphony. Chopin’s E minor concerto can’t be called frivolous—its prodigious piano part wouldn’t allow that—but on the whole hardly comes off as formidable.

Sokhiev’s style showed a confident leader, overly fond of marking entrances, shaping phrases articulately, and adding some comic relief with his repetitive bowing gestures toward the strings (even adding fingering at some points). 

He did stand tall in one aspect: conducting appropriately to the composer. His Britten was all Britten: full of humor, but also quick to shift to the details, and to the underlying richness in that work. His Mendelssohn was bright, and brought out as much Mozart in Mendelssohn (a compliment here) as possible.

The same was true during his second set of programs (April 26–28), which paired the Brahms violin concerto (Vadim Gluzman) with Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony. Sokhiev’s Brahms was entirely deferential to the soloist, who made it easy by playing forcefully, actively engaging his peers. And his conducting for Prokofiev—a work characterized by shifting, chamber-like episodes peppered among the sections—showed a contrasting style, one of active leadership.

Fortunately during the Brahms concerto Sokhiev avoided his comical bowing gestures, which would have probably annoyed the hell out of his soloist. 

Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki, also making his BSO debut, was a marvel at the Chopin in the first set of concerts. Gluzman’s appearance was less overwhelmingly brilliant. There were slurred passages when clarity was demanded (the work is treacherously virtuosic), especially in the first movement. That movement—broad, thoughtful, a caravan of ideas—did climax brilliantly in the long cadenza (Gluzman played Joachim’s), and the work seemed solidly in the hands of the soloist after that.

In both concerts, encores from the soloists showed sides of them that was at least as revealing as the scheduled concertos. Lisiecki quieted down the tumult with an introspective encore: the C-sharp minor Nocturne, Op. Post. Guzman did the same, with a Bach minor-key sarabande movement. Encores often seem like afterthoughts; these both seemed integral to the artists’ presentation.

Sokhiev leads the BSO and violinist Vadim Gluzman through two more concerts, this afternoon and Saturday evening, at Symphony Hall. 888-266-1200; bso.org.

Blaise Déjardin makes debut as Boston Symphony Orchestra’s principal cellist.

Blaise Déjardin makes debut as Boston Symphony Orchestra’s principal cellist.

A Far Cry, with the Miró Quartet: Beethoven, Puts, Strauss

A Far Cry, with the Miró Quartet: Beethoven, Puts, Strauss