Thus reads the dedication of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto, written in 1935 to commemorate the short life of Manon, the 18-year old daughter of the famous architect Walter Gropius (founder of the Bauhaus) and Gustav Mahler’s widow, the complex socialite, Alma Mahler. The apparently enchanting Manon (described as “an angelic gazelle from heaven”) died after suddenly contracting polio. This clearly affected Berg deeply, as evidenced by the outpouring of emotion is the Violin Concerto. The first section, in two parts, represents life, ranging from youthfully erotic folk melodies to a Viennese dance. The similarly divided second section represents death and transfiguration, starting with an anguished cry from the full orchestra and a mournfully elegiac solo violin melody. The final part is underpinned by Bach’s strikingly haunting harmonisation of the chorale, Es ist genug (“It is enough”) from Cantata 60 – a fitting tribute both to the life of the young Angel and, as it turned out, to Berg himself - he never heard it performed, dying himself a few months after Manon. This work combines Schoenberg’s serial twelve-tone row technique with Mahler’s sumptuous late romantic melodic and harmonic texture. The twelve-tone that Berg uses is based on triads built on each of the violin’s open strings and completed by a short whole-tone scale, which form the opening four notes of the Bach chorale. The impressive young Armenian violinist, Sergey Khachatryan, joined the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s principal conductor, the Ukrainian Kirill Karabits in an outstanding performance, revealing the emotional and musical intensity of this marvellous work.

© Yuri Shkoda
© Yuri Shkoda

Bach was to the fore in the opening work, Webern’s deconstruction and rebuilding into a kaleidoscope of orchestral colour of the six-part Ricercare from the Musical Offering with its notable use of a muted trombone and trumpet. As with his directing of the Berg, Kirill Karabits demonstrated his superb control of the architectural structure of the work in his carefully managed build up musical tension.

The concert finished with an invigorating performance of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. From the opening helter-skelter tumble and jaunty little dance, Karabits again showed his ability to build and contain musical tension and drama, reserving the unleashing of the orchestra’s power until the majestic horn theme in the final movement, not long after Beethoven had reduced the texture down to a string quartet. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra was on their usual top form (they are orchestra in residence at The Anvil, Basingstoke impressive concert hall), but the honours must go to their director, Kirill Karabits, a communicative and engaging musicians conductor if ever there was one.