Tired of Beethoven yet? Me neither. But I do have to admit that a constant diet of the composer’s biggest hits, as offered in this 250th anniversary year, can dim one’s appetite for yet more of the same. Fortunately, here’s the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under its chief conductor, Kirill Karabits, to rekindle our interest. Karabits led the symphony in a spectacular tribute to Beethoven in Poole's Lighthouse. Broadcast through live streaming, observing social-distancing protocols, the program featured the UK premiere of Absence by Magnus Lindberg, commissioned for the Beethoven anniversary by four world-class orchestras, including the Bournemouth. The program concluded with the complete ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus, composed during Beethoven’s exciting early years in Vienna.

Kirill Karabits © Konrad Cwik
Kirill Karabits
© Konrad Cwik

Running over an hour, Creatures is not performed as frequently as it should be. This is a work that brims over with youthful high spirits and self-confidence in the late Classical style, yet is able to sustain heart-wrenching bursts of lyricism foreshadowing the Romantic era to come.  

Despite the pandemic, the orchestra boldly sprawled across the entire vast breadth of the stage and was in its finest form as Karabits, an intense young man with an electrifying presence at the podium, began the evening with Lindberg’s nine-minute salute to the Viennese master. The work was a glorious entrée for the program, rich with complexity and a constant outcropping of ideas in an accessible style.

Unlike some other new works I’ve heard in which famous composers’ themes are interwoven, Lindberg used this thematic material gingerly, not raising any alarms (“Listen up! I’m about to quote from the Seventh Symphony!”). There are snippets recalling Impressionism as well neatly stitched into the score. I enjoyed it all so much, I went back and listened to it again, thanks to the miracle of streaming, after the concert ended. By the way, the program notes by Andrew Burn for this selection were right on the money with accurate descriptions of key points in the work’s continuity.

Creatures may be an early work and one of the composer’s few ballet scores, but it offers a glimpse of the Beethoven yet to be. To listen to its two acts divided into 18 sections is to hear the seed of everything that eventually would flower into the mature composer. Throughout the performance, Karabits conducted with unflagging energy and engagement, his face reflecting the nuances of each section’s personality. While there is plenty of Sturm und Drang in this score, there are also passages of great tenderness. The interplay between cello and harp (an instrument rarely heard in Beethoven’s works) was as lovely as any tender passage he ever composed, and there is some breathtaking music performed by oboe and basset horn. I confess I have been dismissive of this work in the past, but in this performance, it had a sweeping intelligence and seemed to fill the spacious hall with drama and purely delicious harmonies.

That Beethoven used the closing theme as the finale of his great Eroica Symphony suggests that he, too, knew the value of what he created. In this concert, the BSO and Kirill Karabits paid tribute to an exceptional composer in a performance that was truly out of the ordinary.

 

This performance was reviewed from the BSO's video stream

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