The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Kirill Karabits were on fine form for their Prom on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. So what else to programme, other than Holst's ever popular The Planets? It was joined here by John Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine. Surprisingly over thirty years old now and inspired by a more terrestrial journey, it served as an exciting teaser for the old favourite. A popular concert opener, it has nevertheless twice been pulled from the Proms schedules at the last minute, after Princess Diana's death in 1997 and then after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, so tonight's performance was only the second at a mainstream Prom. Barber's Violin Concerto has a sporadic Proms history, but has become a fairly regular visitor this century.

Kirill Karabits © Chris Christodoulou
Kirill Karabits
© Chris Christodoulou

Karabits launched into the Adams with bright energy, but at a wisely controlled tempo, the woodblock marking the pulse throughout, seeing off the cross rhythms from across the orchestra. The BSO were on top of the complexities, the woodwind fizzing and the brass soaring over the increasingly busy string textures beneath. Adams said of the piece: “You know how it is when someone asks you to ride in a terrific sports car, and then you wish you hadn't?” Tonight's ride perhaps didn't have that full-on sense of danger, but was exhilarating nonetheless.

Barber's Violin Concerto marked the Proms debut of the Franco-Serbian violinist, Nemanja Radulović. The concerto launches straight in with a summery lyrical theme for the soloist and Radulović set out his stall immediately with great presence and involvement with the orchestra, giving Barber's generous melody warm tone, yet maintaining lightness of touch. He beamed with a look of evident pleasure, through to his brief cadenza at the end of the movement over a quiet orchestral drone. The following woodwind entry was a little heavy and Karabits, ever alert to the dynamics, immediately hushed the orchestra for the movement's peaceful conclusion. The BSO’s Edward Kay delivered the second movement’s extended opening oboe solo with warmth. The cellos take over the theme before the soloist gets a look in, but when he joined proceedings, Radulović's entry was daringly pianissimo and Karabits expertly controlled the orchestral balance, keeping the movement's conclusion serenely quiet – marred only by the evening's first mobile phone intrusion. The moto perpetuo finale was fiery and Radulović made the virtuosic dash dance right to the end. For an encore, Radulović brought the front desk strings to their feet for a blistering performance of a traditional Serbian circle dance, Pašona kolo, and Radulović graciously slipped into the line of string players for the final bows, showing once again his evident joy in performing with others.

Nemanja Radulović and Kirill Karabits © Chris Christodoulou
Nemanja Radulović and Kirill Karabits
© Chris Christodoulou

The Planets must be so familiar to the BSO players that in places Karabits barely needed to conduct them and he clearly trusted in their command of the work. However, this proficiency allowed for Karabits to lift proceedings way above a standard read through. Mars was suitably fierce, with Karabits' tempo on the quick side – perhaps still in that fast machine – which certainly gave urgency, but diluted the impact of the relentless emerging threat, although the final tutti chords were truly scary. Mercury was sprightly and light footed, almost dance-like, with precise ensemble as material was passed between celesta, strings and woodwind; the preceding Venus, which exploits the same instruments more peacefully (despite another mobile phone interruption), was also suitably atmospheric, with a strong opening solo from BSO Principal Horn Philip Munds and equally insightful solos from oboist Kay and leader Amyn Merchant. Apart from some slightly wayward tuning in some of the horn and woodwind chords, Karabits nevertheless achieved a sense of awe and calm here. Karabits wisely kept the big tune in under wraps in Jupiter, allowing it to build slowly, so that the when the climactic rendition arrived it had maximum impact. Karabits let the BSO enjoy the waltzing trio, with minimal conducting here and the triumphant coda took us back to the Adams that began the programme. Mysterious Saturn, with its rocking flute and harp figures, later taken up by glassy strings and horns, once again had Karabits giving tight attention to dynamic control and his Uranus had wit and energy, with shiny brass fanfares and swirling strings and horns and a dark edge in the final tutti march. Neptune again had mystery and total control of the pianissimo dynamics by Karabits. Apart from some jagged edges to a few of the unsettling harmonic chord changes, this was a strong conclusion, with the Trinity Boys Choir highly impressive in their tuning, particularly for their final offstage chorus, although their disappearance into nothing could have been more graded. Overall, a Planets with considerable insight, dynamic variety and atmospheric contrasts.

****1