Oksana Lyniv, a conductor with a sunny smile, served up a pair of suitably sunny works in a polished debut with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Herkulessaal. Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major is one of his most delightful works, the sparring between violin and viola ever playful, while Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony brims with exuberance under cloudless azure skies. Familiar music, certainly, but played without any sense of routine, especially as Lyniv had a real surprise up her sleeve.

Oksana Lyniv conducts the BRSO © BR | Astrid Ackermann
Oksana Lyniv conducts the BRSO
© BR | Astrid Ackermann

One consequence of the current quarantine and travel restrictions is that orchestral players are enjoying the concerto spotlight much more often. Here, Jehye Lee (leader of the second violins) and Tobias Reifland (principal viola) were the excellent soloists in the Mozart, her violin tone bright and luminous, his viola pillowy soft. After Lyniv set a buoyant pace in the tutti opening, Lee allowed herself a more expansive tempo for her first significant solo, sensitively echoed by Reifland, who only joined the BRSO in April. Their mirroring of dynamics and phrasing in the cadenza was perfectly in step, Lee often turning to face her viola partner. 

Lyniv’s technique is uncomplicated, her baton often held horizontally, momentum seeming to spring from the knees. In the sublime Andante, her baton was replaced by open palms, coaxing the musical line sensitively. A few horn flubs aside, the Presto finale was lively, the soloists’ banter full of amiable good humour.

Jehye Lee and Tobias Reifland © BR | Astrid Ackermann
Jehye Lee and Tobias Reifland
© BR | Astrid Ackermann

Mendelssohn composed his A major symphony on a year-long sojourn in Italy from October 1830. “I have once more begun to compose with fresh vigour,” he wrote to his sister, Fanny, in February 1831, “and the Italian symphony makes rapid progress; it will be the happiest piece I have ever written.” But although he conducted the premiere in London in 1833, Mendelssohn was unhappy with the results and refused to publish it. He revised the last three movements in 1834, yet never got round to completing the task and it was the original version of the symphony that was published in 1851, four years after his death.  

Lyniv here conducted the 1834 revision, a score only published in 2001 and still unfamiliar to many ears. She set a sensible, rather than skittish, pace for the Allegro vivace opening movement, the Bavarians’ glossy upper strings gleaming brilliantly, allowing her room to accelerate for a breathless coda. It’s from the Andante con moto, here a rather sedate pilgrims’ plod, that the unsuspecting listener is taken unawares. Mendelssohn smooths out the melodic line, as he does in the following Minuet, gracefully danced, and the strings’ skipping dotted rhythm response to the Trio’s horn calls is replaced by a dull rising scale. These are not major changes, just enough to catch you off your guard, like taking a detour along a winding path on a favourite walk.

Oksana Lyniv conducts the BRSO in the Herkukessaal © BR | Astrid Ackermann
Oksana Lyniv conducts the BRSO in the Herkukessaal
© BR | Astrid Ackermann

The most exciting alteration came in the Saltarello finale, which Lyniv launched explosively. There’s much more pizzicato action than in Mendelssohn’s original, lending the dance an impish air, plus an exciting timpani battery that gives the movement such relish that one doesn’t mind the composer repeating his second subject. This was certainly a persuasive performance even if, in the end, one agrees with Fanny that the original version is preferable. 

The BRSO has yet to appoint a successor to Mariss Jansons, who died last November. After this impressive debut, it would do well to invite Lyniv back soon.

This performance was reviewed from the BR Klassik video stream