No temporary leader has been named, but the Boston Symphony Orchestra is deepening its ties at the moment with Charles Dutoit, who Thursday night led the first of three subscription programs slated for this season. The orchestra, no doubt eager to project some sense of continuity, has designated these programs as the first in a “multiyear survey of the repertoire for which Maestro Dutoit is a foremost interpreter.”
That’s a frustratingly vague description, but at least we know Dutoit will continue to be around Symphony Hall with some frequency, and that’s good news. Thursday night’s program opened with finely drawn performances of two infrequently heard works: the Symphonic Fragments from Debussy’s “Martyrdom of St. Sebastian” and Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments, Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra. After intermission, the Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky made his BSO debut with a streamlined and powerful performance of Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, sparking an instant and uncommonly vigorous ovation.
It was easy to see why. Beyond the pellucid tone and fleet virtuosity, Lugansky’s playing of this intensely popular concerto found a happy middle ground between big-boned Romantic fervor and the more aristocratically refined pianism favored by Rachmaninoff himself. Dutoit’s touch was also vital here, as he brought a freshness of shape and shading to orchestral lines and a sensitive grasp of pacing. The audience recalled Lugansky again and again until he delivered an encore: an effortlessly lithe account of Rachmaninoff’s G-Sharp Minor Prelude.
It was a pleasure to begin the night with the four rarely heard Debussy fragments, drawn from the incidental music the composer wrote in 1911 for a play by Gabriele d’Annunzio. The music stands on its own, beautifully veiled and evanescent, full of reflected light. Dutoit has a subtle feel for the sound world this music requires, and in Thursday night’s performance his conception felt mostly realized. I imagine future performances growing still richer in atmosphere and mystery. There was already much to admire.
The sound world of Martin’s genial Concerto is far more buoyant and crisp. Written in 1949, this music has a modern sheen, but also plenty of old-fashioned virtuosity without quotation marks, and timpanist Timothy Genis joined seven BSO principals for a sparkling performance. They were: Elizabeth Rowe (flute), John Ferrillo (oboe), William R. Hudgins (clarinet), Richard Svoboda (bassoon), James Sommerville (horn), Thomas Rolfs (trumpet), and Toby Oft (trombone).