IN the spirit of the recent Olympics and Paralympics, Sydney Symphony Orchestra is embracing a Brazilian theme with its latest concerts, marking the return after 20 years of concert pianist Nelson Freire.
Over five decades the 71-year-old has worked with many of the great conductors and orchestras, but for this tour with the SSO he has brought along 35-year-old US-based compatriot Marcelo Lehninger, who is making his Australian debut conducting in both Sydney and Melbourne.
Freire, an unassuming performer who lets his consummate mastery of the instrument speak for itself, chose Schumann’s concerto for the program. Rhapsodic, triumphant and exhilarating by turns, it is a worthy showcase for any virtuoso’s talents and Freire gave his audience a masterclass in taste and seemingly effortless technique.
The interplay between soloist and the relatively small orchestra is essential and this was a feature of the performance. Lehninger proved adept at balancing the two elements with finely judged tempos and a deft foot on the orchestral pedal.
Sadly we didn’t get an encore, but the extended cadenzas whetted the appetite for Freire’s recital at City Recital Hall Angel Place on Monday night.
Lehninger also proved an excellent interpreter in the two other works on the program, Beethoven’s dramatic Coriolan Overture and Rachmaninoff’s sprawling Symphony No.2.
The young Brazilian maestro has recently been appointed music director of Grand Rapids Symphony after establishing himself in South and North America. His mentors have included Kurt Masur and Leonard Slatkin and it was obvious from the get-go that he is a class act.
The SSO were in splendid form, especially in the massive hour-long symphony. Clarinetist Francesco Celata deserved the double ovation he got but all departments were superb. Special mentions should go to guest principal horn Lin Jiang, on loan from the Hong Kong Philharmonic and who didn’t put a foot wrong, and tubaist Steve Rosse who had a busy second half.