On the podium was Nicholas Hersh, who joined the BSO as associate conductor in 2014. This regular subscription program was a step up from the normal assignments for the position, such as holiday and kids concerts. It opened with “Rondes de printemps,” a movement from Debussy’s “Images,” which Hersh gave an active, almost breathless propulsion. For much of the time, he uses both arms to give the beat, a style that leaves little room for providing cues or other direction.
Cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan, winner of the gold medal at the 2011 International Tchaikovsky Competition, returned to the BSO to play Elgar’s Cello Concerto. He attacked the piece with a beefy, full sound, and luxuriated over rubato slow passages with yearning phrasing. But the playing was not without a few blemishes, including in double-stops and on harmonic notes here and there. Perhaps his finest moment came in a rarefied, heartfelt encore, “El cant dels ocells” as arranged by Pablo Casals.
Crisp, raucous low brass introduced Prokofiev’s Sixth Symphony, given a competent reading by Hersh and the orchestra. A few intonation issues unsettled the flute solos in the first movement, but the menacing horn notes, on wailing siren-like crescendos, drove the music to a fever pitch. Both the swooning romantic melody and the military march of the second movement were powerful and full-throated. The gallop-style theme of the finale moved progressively from insipid to threatening, making for a satisfying conclusion.