A curious blend of American and Finnish music that, once any initial incongruity had been understood, made perfect sense in terms of its symphonic cohesion. Framing one of the great violin concertos, here was a twofold symphonic journey showcasing and juxtaposing the compressed energy of Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony (1924) with the brash, flamboyant and urban soundscape that is John Adams’ City Noir – a symphony in all but name and just ten year’s old. Judging from the extravagant forces needed for the Adams (and the need to extend the stage at the Anvil) this was luxury programming with repertoire not normally associated with Kirill Karabits. But the players of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra are a versatile troupe and when Karabits goes out on a limb, they follow with obvious commitment and deliver fantastic results.

Kirill Karabits © Konrad Cwik
Kirill Karabits
© Konrad Cwik

That’s not to suggest standard repertoire receives desultory performances. Far from it, as this stylish account of the Sibelius symphony amply demonstrated. Karabits brought rare focus to its unbroken span, with careful consideration to tempi and well-judged climaxes both naturally moulded into the work’s organic development. It’s a symphony that seems to work on many levels, and the range of moods conjured, variously brooding, frisky and noble were all deftly integrated into its ever-changing landscape. Crystalline detail emerged; gloriously rich brass, well-upholstered strings and wisps of woodwind all caught the ear and the work’s expansive moments were saved for the closing pages – the “grandest celebration of C major there ever was” which crowned a magnificent performance.

Next up was Sibelius’ Violin Concerto with the Bournemouth players now supportive collaborators to the Ukrainian virtuoso Valeriy Sokolov. Rarely have I heard this orchestra play with such affection and tenderness, so perfectly balanced too with a soloist whose sweetness of tone and dynamic control perfectly attuned to the poise of the first movement’s opening bars. A pity then that Sokolov’s obvious engagement with the music was exclusive to the audience and the orchestra, preferring to communicate directly, as it were, with the composer. As a purely auditory experience, this was second to none, his cadenza both emphatic and intimate and with plenty of varnished tone. The Adagio felt ponderous, but the Finale drew playful tone from Sokolov and much characterful support from the orchestra making this work sound every bit as fresh as it must have been at its Helsinki premiere in 1904.

Leap forward just over a century and a massive stylistic gear change and we encounter a work written for Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. City Noir of 2009 is a homage to LA and takes its inspiration from the city’s “noir” films produced in the 1940s and 50s. This three-movement portrait is an eclectic mix of jazz and classical genres, a ménage of Bernstein, Korngold and Rachmaninov that together makes a kind of American in Paris on steroids. The Adams sound, though, is unmistakable, complete with throbbing accompaniments, swooning string melodies, and cool, liquid sounds of bass clarinet and vibraphone. The score includes standout passages for alto saxophone, trumpet and trombone and its percussion section kept six players on their toes. But this incident-filled score and its continually shifting sound-world eventually began to lose its grip for me, no matter how fluently conceived the chugging rhythms and gaudy colours. It’s a great joy ride, yet for all its surging energy and swagger I began to think less is more, despite superlative playing under the ever-dynamic Karabits.

****1