The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra recently returned to the Lighthouse, Poole, streaming their performances online as well as performing to reduced live audiences. The Lighthouse is blessed with a large, wide stage, facilitating the required additional spacing between players with relative ease. This must present challenges in terms of listening and sightlines between players, but barring the odd moment of ensemble loss, Mark Wigglesworth and the orchestra seemed comfortable in their thinned-out formation.

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
© Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

They launched Haydn’s Symphony no. 99 with a stately slow introduction, leading into the sprightly Vivace, with immediately tight ensemble, and the second subject was given a gentle lilt by the violins and clarinets (the instrument’s first appearance in a Haydn symphony). A graceful Adagio, with delightful birdlike woodwind echoes, suffered from lapses in ensemble in places, but the sudden insistent horn interruption was delivered with energy, and the cellos completed the movement with playful guitar-style pizzicato. Playfulness continued into the Menuet and Trio, taken at a steady pace, but full of fun and energy. That energy then broke free in the skittish Finale, with its quirky conversational exchanges between winds and strings. The woodwind players in particular demonstrated impressive articulation, while string ensemble was once again tight, with the fugal passages given great intensity and bite. One of Haydn’s typical false endings, with the orchestra slowing up to a seemingly final stop, caught the audience out, before the emphatic conclusion was dashed off with bright, fizzing energy.

Despite its hefty, symphonic proportions, Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto shares a positivity of spirit with the Haydn and, compared with Brahms’ first concerto, full of conflict and stress, has a more conversational, relaxed feel. In a pre-concert conversation with presenter Sarah Walker, Stephen Hough described the first as a thunderstorm, whilst the second is about the sun rising once again – an appropriate sentiment for our times perhaps. 

Mark Wigglesworth, Stephen Hough and the BSO
© Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

From the warm opening horn solo from Alex Wide, and Hough’s rich-toned reply, it was clear that this would be a sunlit performance. Hough certainly delivered the requisite weight, yet never at the expense of clarity of articulation, or warmth of interpretation. Full orchestral tuttis again had power and particularly rich brass, but almost no detail was missed by Wigglesworth. The quiet string response to the second movement’s angst-ridden piano opening was expertly judged, although the join following the full orchestral climax in this movement was not quite seamless. Principal cellist Jesper Svedberg’s solo in the third movement was sweetly romantic, although the bassoon’s turn at the melody was sadly a little obscured in the balance. 

Following moments of turbulence, the still calm of the piano’s meanderings against slow moving clarinets was exquisitely judged, ushering in the return of the cello solo. In contrast to the relaxed opening, here it could have benefited from more breathing space. However, the conclusion had such a sensitive sense of scale, feeling almost chamber-like, with Hough’s delicate trilling leading into that final duetting moment with the cello with perfect balance. The dancing Finale felt playful from the piano’s first entrance, leading into the slightly seasick, lilting second theme, reminiscent of a Hungarian Dance, which Wigglesworth steered with an infectious swing. There was a real sense of conversation between Hough and the BSO players, particularly the winds, and Hough’s lightness of touch gave Brahms’ melodies a great spring in the step. The final piano gallop, accompanied by powerful surges of orchestral tutti, and a concluding pianistic flourish delivered a joyous ending to the performance. And in a nice touch, online audiences received an orchestral bow to the camera.

This performance was reviewed from the BSO's video stream