Once again Kirill Karabits devised an exploratory programme that turned eastwards for inspiration. Secure in the knowledge that audiences at the Lighthouse are undaunted by lesser-known composers, this concert included rarities from two late 19th-century Russians and the first performance in Poole of Shostakovich’s Symphony no 4 in C minor.

Kirill Karabits conducts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
© Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

The evening began with music by the Ukrainian Feodor Akimenko (1876-1945), familiar to those regulars here who had heard the world premiere of his Cello Concerto last October. Had one not been aware of the composer’s identity one might have assumed his short Nocturne from 1910 was a slice of Edwardian nostalgia, its harmonic palette possibly belonging to the generation of British composers active during the same period. The strings of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra drew out the work’s elegiac quality, its nobility underlined by Jesper Svedberg’s briefly eloquent cello solo, the whole given a rapt and affectionate send off.

A more ominous manner occupied the beginning of Alexander Glazunov’s Prelude, the first of four pictorial movements drawn from his 1902 suite From the Middle Ages. Each movement is prefaced with a descriptive note for which the Prelude evokes a raging sea pummelling the walls of a castle, while inside, and oblivious to the storm, a young couple are romantically entwined. Karabits fashioned a detailed performance, vividly illuminating Glazunov’s film score colouring.

No less well crafted, though in a more limited way, is Sergei Taneyev’s rarely performed cantata St John of Damascus (1884). It sets a poem by Alexei Tolstoy outlining the last thoughts of the great Orthodox saint as he prepares to meet his maker. Taneyev responds to this spiritual journey with music of rich intensity, but despite the presence of Russian Orthodox chant running through the work its compositional rigour reflects a more Germanic inclination. He was proud of the work’s contrapuntal ingenuity, but its two fugues generate a solemnity that is more worthy than memorable. That said, the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus sang with warmth and firm conviction, if not always with clear articulation, and were at their best in their two a cappella passages.

The Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and Orchestra
© Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

There followed a barnstorming performance of Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony, one of his most daring scores and hastily withdrawn from its planned premiere in 1936 for fears of a political backlash. Karabits was an invigorating champion, the work’s abrupt mood swings, its savagery and grotesque satire all deeply involving. The opening movement was hard driven with a ferocious string fugato, two timpanists compounding its hysteria. Chilling violas, demonic woodwinds and apocalyptic horns brought menace to the second movement and the Finale’s bleak journey from funeral march to world-weary triumph, closed with violins and ghostly celesta evoking Siberian desolation. The principals throughout were outstanding – special mention for Tammy Thorn (bassoon) and Kevin Morgan (trombone) – so too was Karabits’ negotiation of mood and tempo to shape this magnificently powerful performance. The prolonged silence at the end told its own story, as did the ecstatic aftermath.