Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra began what promised to be an excellent programme with a simple Romantic work from Richard Strauss, Traumerei am Kamin (“Dreaming by the Fireside”). Expressed beautifully by the BSO, the piece followed the narrative of a gradual build up that might be likened to the blossoming of a flower, or something equally sentimental, and ended, despite a brief moment of unease, in a relaxed fashion, evocative of a golden retriever sprawled across a rug in front of an open fire. Or at least that’s what it evoked for me. Also enjoyable were conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier’s apparent attempts at “the robot”, which were certainly enough to rival Peter Crouch.

Benjamin Ealovega
Benjamin Ealovega

I had seen Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto once before and I must say I was absolutely blown away by the performance. Consequently this was to be a tough act to follow, but soloist James Ehnes gave a technically flawless performance: an incredible achievement for such a demanding piece. Though the piece itself is quite showy in its nature – essentially a Romantic showcase for the virtuoso, with big tunes, energetic sections and plenty of variety in mood and content – the performance, and indeed the air exuded by the soloist, was one of understatement. He refrained from employing too much aggression in his performance, while the nature of the piece would tempt others into almost constant appassionato playing, and this helped to bring out some of the climaxes in the piece. Sometimes, however, more aggression would have been preferable and, after some big tutti highlights, his chords failed to pack the adequate punch needed to avoid slight anticlimax. Overall the soloist’s performance was wonderful, however, at times almost taking elements of folk-style playing (especially in the first cadenza); not only did he exceed Tchaikovsky’s demands, he provided an interpretation that instilled the concerto with a very human, and ultimately musical quality. Considering how good it is, I find it quite surprising that Tchaikovsky wrote only one violin concerto, which is now certainly my favourite of the Romantic era.

Following the interval, the BSO played excerpts from Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet, Romeo and Juliet. I adore the beginning, as individual instruments enter one after another, building up a chord cluster for the orchestra to then erupt ferociously: something you simply can’t appreciate without experiencing the piece live. (The suitably humungous bass drum was used to good effect.) Knowing what was coming next, I was quite surprised by my reaction at hearing what many will know, unfortunately, as “the theme tune to The Apprentice” (a.k.a. Montagues and Capulets, a.k.a. Dance of the Knights). I pondered the irony that the work of a Soviet composer was chosen for a show with such a message... The piece itself is indicative of Prokofiev’s style in general. Partly due to the narrative of the ballet, these excerpts displayed a phenomenal level of variety and drama, but the two key idiosyncrasies were to be found in the juxtaposition of very dark, brooding or aggressive features with parodical, satirical moments. One can really get a sense of the composer revelling in his own subversion, as he combines dances melodies with crude tonality and harmony, and odd combinations of instruments, such as a mocking saxophone solo of the Montagues and Capulets theme. The entry of two mandolins behind the basses made quite a stir with the audience, and was followed by the violins strumming their instruments like guitars. This was one of many moments in the piece that prompted laughter from the audience: there aren’t many that can claim to do that. Moreover, these moments seemed to heighten the moments of genuine anguish in the piece, which exhibited some beautiful impassioned melodies, particularly in the cellos. The orchestra itself was excellent and interpreted the piece perfectly in successfully highlighting all the different characters contained within, whilst also being suitably colossal for such an indicatively Prokofievan work.

*****