It was inevitable that in a season devoted to “fifth symphonies” the CPO would include Beethoven’s Fifth, the most famous of all fifths. Featuring this most popular of all symphonies, the CPO presented a pair of concerts that introduced Beethoven Week, a four-concert miniseries that centers upon the music of the composer.
Music director Roberto Minczuk, himself a Beethoven fan, has conducted all Beethoven symphonies with the orchestra, but on this occasion the podium was taken by Marcello Lehninger, a young conductor from Brazil now working in The United States.
Despite his youth, Lehninger already has a remarkable list of conducting credits. Judging from Friday night’s concert, it is evident that growing reputation is well deserved. Lehninger was polished and secure in his handling of an orchestra and displayed a distinctive personality as a musician. He has a remarkably good conducting technique, and throughout the evening his control of the orchestra was sure, refined, and poised.
From the outset, it was evident that Lehninger was determined to put his individual stamp on this performance of Beethoven’s familiar masterpiece. Starting boldly, with the tempo bracingly brisk, this was a testosterone-laced performance, the accents sharp, the climaxes booming, the energy level at fever pitch, particularly in the framing movements.
While there was more than a touch of the frantic in the performance, the energy and élan of the playing was such that one could hardly resist being swept along, so forceful was the projection of the music. While the symphony did not need to go quite this fast, it was nevertheless a performance of great intensity, with the players and audience fully engaged. At the conclusion, the ovation was tumultuous, the performance likely to be remembered for a long time.
The concert had two other distinctive elements: the appearance of the Calgary Youth Orchestra in the opening overture, and the appearance as soloists of two of the orchestra’s principal players.
Both concertmaster Diana Cohen and cellist Philip Hansen are not just section leaders but fine soloists as well. Just how fine could be seen from their performances with the orchestra. Cohen performed Samuel Barber’s violin concerto, a work filled with lyrical ideas and great imagination. Despite some muddy textures from the orchestra, Cohen executed her solo part with great élan, her playing effortless and filled with generous tone and refinement. The melodic material of the first two movements was performed with understanding, and the virtuoso elements of the finale posed no threat to Cohen’s masterful technique.
Hansen, always a compelling performer, projected the rich melodic line of the Tchaikovsky’s familiar Rocco Variations with fervour and excellent shape. And when the virtuoso licks came along at the end, he tossed them off with the ease of a master cellist. Both performers were exceptionally well received.
With the Calgary Youth Orchestra on stage, the stage area was filled to capacity. With a massive orchestra of this size, the performance of Beethoven’s popular Leonore Overture No. 3 was grandly impressive, with a dramatic offstage trumpet at the moment of rescue and a splendid sprint to the finish. Playing with energy and commitment, the young players joined the seasoned professionals of the CPO in a joyous music making.
This was a concert remarkable for its energy and in-your-face excitement. While the indominitable music of Beethoven can take much of the credit, it was also a the product of the strong personality of conductor Marcello Lehninger, whose command of the musical proceedings gave the impression of considerable talent and, perhaps, of greater things to come.