After an absolutely stunning Mahler “Resurrection” under Music Director Leonard Slatkin, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra had a comparative break with this generally small-scaled Classical period program. Case Scaglione’s achievements to date are headlined by an assistantship to Alan Gilbert at the New York Philharmonic, but despite being both young and charming, I am not entirely convinced that his strengths lie in the Classical repertoire. Despite some fine playing and moments of excitement, this was a joyless and uninspired evening at Orchestra Hall.

The “Little” G minor Symphony of Mozart is arguably one of his first major statements in the form, and one of his earliest to be regularly played today. Scaglione drew intelligent playing from the Detroit Orchestra. This is one of Mozart’s angriest and darkest scores and, while hardly lacking in beauty or grace, the work offers a unique opportunity to explore Mozart in a minor key, and capitalize on the rich writing for low strings. This chance was only half-heartedly seized. Scaglione imparted a somewhat mechanical and sluggish approach that failed to push the music forward. If the outer movements suffered from a lack of drive, the inner movements felt routine. This is not a work the Detroiters play often – it has been nearly a decade – but this was not a good start.

The Shostakovich Violin Sonata was presented in an arrangment for percussion, strings and violin soloist. With the wholly engrossing solo work of Augustin Hadelich, this was easily the most successful item on the program. With a spooky, 12-tone opening movement and typically terrifying Scherzo, the piece showcases a number of the composer’s unique stylistic choices. Only the finale is puzzling, a curious mix of the first movement and a Russian dance of sorts. Though none of the piano parts have been altered note-wise, the massed stings (along with woodblock, snare drum etc), do indeed add a different dimension to this chamber work. The strings of the Detroit Symphony were totally convincing, digging deeply into the emotional depths of the sonata and establishing the arrangement as valid. The work takes a few minutes before it allows the strings to do anything but imitate a piano, but things did improve as time passed. In certain places, it was unquestionable that a less dense framework would have been more appropriate, and the percussion sometimes felt like a point-making device in the wrong ways. Still, Hadelich clearly believes in the piece, as he played with great feeling and commitment. Scaglione also balanced the orchestra very well, and the stunning execution of dramatic sections leads me to believe he would bring similar passion to the composer’s symphonies.

The second half was a return to mediocrity. Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture was neither especially dramatic nor driven, and failed to capture the spirit of the theatre. Throughout the program, the normally excellent first-desk soloists of the orchestra played with little flair, most startlingly the ever-reliable winds. Scaglione did little to elevate the piece beyond a way to begin the half, and the orchestra did little to help him. In Haydn's “Surprise” Symphony, pretty playing and incisive attacks were unable to make the performance any more than routine. The same mechanical feel that opened the program was evident here, and there was little reason to believe anyone in the orchestra was having a good time. Scaglione had a similarly dour approach, as Haydn’s humor and wit (which is the whole point of the “Surprise” Symphony) were both conspicuously absent. All tempos within the Classical works tended towards moderate, “traditional” ones, though you can certainly inject more energy into all three composers at slower speeds. Despite the interest of the Shostakovich, Scaglione showed he wasn’t ready for the big names on the program, at least not as conducted here.