MUSIC: Things can only get easier

Bournemouth SO Wessex Hall, Poole
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Yakov Kreizberg, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's principal conductor elect, clearly doesn't believe in making things easy for himself. His single concert, on Wednesday, in the current Wessex Hall season, began not with a fizzy overture guaranteed to win him the hearts of Poole's citizens, both senior and not so senior, but with Medea, an 18-minute "dramatic monologue" for mezzo and orchestra by the Austrian-born Ernst Krenek (1900-91).

Composed in 1952, this 12-note score has its moments of Bergian near- tonality and expressionist delight in orchestral colour, but as a whole exhibits a rather characterless atonality strangely at odds with an intending evocation of Medea's plight. Why does Kreizberg apparently feel so strongly about the piece that he added it to an already substantial programme? Daphne Evangelatos - committed, competent, but lacking real presence - couldn't persuade me. Krenek has few sympathisers these days; none at all in Dorset, I'd guess. Laudable as Kreizberg's concern for challenging 20th-century music is, he will have to find better ways of convincing the BSO's generally very conservative subscribers.

This 35-year-old Russian-born American certainly doesn't seem like the traditional sort of whizzkid jetsetter. His platform manner is serious and unflashy, positively self-effacing when dealing with soloists. He has clear ideas about what he wants, a firm grasp of both detail and overall structure, and an impeccable technique. In John Lill, he may have found a pianist of like mind. Their performance of Beethoven's Emperor concerto was admirable but almost entirely lacking in emotional projection, still less in spontaneity. There was no joy in the opening movement's majesty, no radiance in the slow movement, no sense of release in the finale. Kreizberg has said his first priority with the BSO is to revitalise the "classical" repertoire that he feels the orchestra has neglected, but I can't see his Haydn being much fun.

No doubt both conductor and orchestra were on their best behaviour on Wednesday, and understandably nervous. The second half, at any rate, saw some more immediately communicative playing, though Stravinsky's Rite of Spring isn't a work to relax into as either player or listener. After the Beethoven, I almost thought Kreizberg would beat time to the opening flute solo of Debussy's Prlude l'aprs-midi d'un faune, and I'm not sure he approved of Ken Smith's somewhat casual approach to its rhythms. But this reading had an appropriate, unexpected warmth.

The Rite benefited enormously from Kreizberg's precision, while also conveying an energy that had as much to do with evident pleasure in this score's rhythmic and timbrel invention as with the sheer volume of sound a large orchestra can produce in this not very large hall. Only atmosphere was sometimes missing: in the opening of "Ronds printanires", for instance, where, as elsewhere, the quiet music wasn't quiet enough. By the time the "Dans sacrale" was reached, the momentum was flagging a little after a long evening. But as a whole, this performance suggested that the South and West may, after all, be in for some passionate as well as intellectual music-making from the BSO's new conductor in the coming years. His audiences may even come to love him.

n Repeated 20 April, Festival Hall, London (0171-928 8800)