Cellist Zvi Plesser, winner of the National Symphony Orchestra's Young Soloist Competition in 1990, made his formal debut at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall last night, in an NSO performance of Edouard Lalo's Cello Concerto. Within five minutes of the first movement, Plesser proved equal to the task of soloist, even if the composer, for the most part, failed him.

Of the few Lalo works still performed with any degree of frequency, the cello concerto probably falls behind the "Symphonie espagnole" as the most popular -- though that, for those who know these works, is a dubious honor. It's puzzling, when so many fine and flattering cello concertos abound, that either soloist or conductor -- last night it was Randall Craig Fleischer -- should select this rather maudlin piece.

Despite the Spanish-flavored virtuosity, the heat of this concerto rarely fires up above the tepid, and the orchestral tuttis are downright lackluster. But for all the inherent problems in the work, Plesser eked out the poetry with delicate definition, if not always projecting his passion to the far reaches of the hall.

Next time, and there simply must be a next time, Plesser should take a shot at something with more meat -- of the Dvorak or Elgar variety.

Affiliate Artist Conductor Fleischer, whose confident touch has become something of a hallmark with the NSO, never seemed to grasp the weight of the other pre-intermission piece, Beethoven's "Leonore" Overture, No. 3. While the opening was finely honed and skillfully balanced, the whole lacked shape. The bigger picture failed to have focus, despite some rather attractive architectural details.

How refreshing, then, to hear Copland's Suite from the ballet "Appalachian Spring" and Ravel's "Bolero" played as if for the first time.

Fleischer and the NSO suffused the former work with a bright lyricism as timeless as an oak: It unfolded with magnificent interplay between the various instrumental sections without ever sounding hackneyed. And somehow "Bolero," which can sound like the dullest infinity of music ever contrived, was transformed by this young and able conductor into 17 minutes of lithe, beguiling beauty.