It’s exceedingly rare to have a Boston Symphony Orchestra assistant conductor arrive to his post having already made a BSO conducting debut. Such was the case, however, with Ken-David Masur, who first led the orchestra at Tanglewood in 2012 under unusual circumstances. His father, Kurt Masur, was recovering from an accident and chose to share his program with Ken-David, who was studying that summer as a conducting fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center. Some two years later, in September 2014, Ken-David Masur was named as the orchestra’s assistant conductor.
His subscription series debut had been scheduled for next season. But it arrived instead on Thursday night, as Masur, 37, stepped in to replace an ailing Tugan Sokhiev in a program of works by Berlioz, Saint-Saens, and Rimsky-Korsakov.
On the podium, he cuts a figure both streamlined and angular, and his taut podium gestures convey a wiry intensity. That quality worked to fine effect in the hurtling music with which Berlioz’s Overture “Le Corsaire” announces its arrival. This was a solid and colorful account, even if some measure of the smiling exuberance behind the onrushing notes was left unrealized.
Saint-Saens was represented by his Cello Concerto No. 1, a work that is de rigueur for serious student cellists and a staple at youth concerto competitions. Its most memorable feature may be its opening bars, and the way the Saint-Saens convenes the affair with a single chord after which the soloist leaps into the fray with a downward-surging torrent of notes.
This week the Canadian-German cellist Johannes Moser is on hand, and on Thursday he gave the work a deluxe and rhapsodic treatment. The opening measures here arrived as a bold call to attention, and the outer sections were taken at an extremely brisk clip. All told, it was a speedy and virtuosic tour of a modest work, with playing still alert to the music’s charms. The rendition clearly hit its mark with Thursday’s audience, which was similarly quick to its feet.
After intermission came a much-loved repertory staple, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” It was a nice choice to have this opulent, brilliantly orchestrated symphonic suite sharing a program with a score by Berlioz, who literally wrote the book on orchestration. Indeed it comes as little surprise that the French composer’s music was revered by the group of young Russian composers known as The Mighty Handful (it sounds more mighty in Russian), among them Mussorgsky, Cui, and Rimsky-Korsakov. Masur’s leadership from the podium was for the most part effective and efficient, with the music shining most brightly in the series of solo turns taken up by numerous members of the orchestra, among them Richard Svoboda (bassoon), John Ferrillo (oboe), William Hudgins (clarinet), Elizabeth Rowe (flute), and, elegantly rendering the lavish tracery of the solo violin part, concertmaster Malcolm Lowe.
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