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Young conductor Dudamel sparkles in BSO debut

LENOX -- The hype about the Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel has begun. This month he appeared on the cover of Britain's ``Gramophone" magazine in a group of ``tomorrow's classical superstars" -- in advance of the release of his first major-label recording.

Those music lovers who are allergic to hype can ignore it. Dudamel is the real deal; members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra have been buzzing about him all week, and they gave him their best during his terrific debut concert at Tanglewood Friday night.

At 25, Dudamel is a not a precocious kid; he has been developing his craft since he first started conducting at 13, and he was a violinist before that. In a testimonial in ``Gramophone," one of his mentors, Daniel Barenboim, wrote, ``He knows everything one cannot learn about music. He still has to learn some of the things that can be learnt, but what cannot be learnt, he already has in him."

On the podium, the mop-topped Dudamel is slight of stature but full of energy that radiates outward to both the players and the audience. Like Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa, Dudamel doesn't conduct just with his hands and arms, but with his whole body. His movements are as precise and specific as choreography, but more spontaneous. Also choreography moves to the music; conducting moves in advance of it. Dudamel looks as if the music is charging through him on its way to the orchestra.

He opened with the overture to Bernstein's ``Candide," one of the most-played pieces in the American repertoire -- and one of the most often mauled. Dudamel's performance was lightning-swift. Fast music needs at least as much detail as slow music, and Dudamel and the players supplied it in a witty and sparkling performance. Only two other conductors in this listener's experience have gotten as much out of the piece : James Levine and Bernstein .

Next came Beethoven's First Piano Concerto with Imogen Cooper as soloist. Dudamel and the orchestra provided a deft, stylish, and shapely counterpart to the work of the British pianist, who is an elegant, sensitive, and forthright musician. She was not at ease in her last Boston appearance a decade ago, in the Schumann Concerto, so it was good to hear her on form and in such a congenial piece.

For the second half Dudamel chose Manuel de Falla's complete ballet score ``The Three-Cornered Hat," a work that doesn't appear on BSO programs very often (most recently in 1984). The ballet score is uneven, but the best parts are full of alluring melodies propelled by springing dance rhythms. Many influences appear in it, and there's a fateful quotation from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But Falla also quotes from himself. The bassoon has a particularly prominent role, and Richard Svoboda played it with flair.

A mezzo-soprano introduces the proceedings and later issues a warning. The part is not long, but another artist on the way up and making a BSO debut, Isabel Leonard, made a big impression with it. Leonard, a protegee of Marilyn Horne , looks like a model and sings with verve and personality.

Dudamel was in his element in this story-telling music and brought the orchestra into its ebullient mood. The night was cold and damp, and ``only" 4,837 people were there, but some of them were aware it was the beginning of what could be a couple of major careers.

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