The theme to the evening’s programme at Colston Hall was “The Power of Love”. Spread over a century, the three works programmed were all romantically driven.

Kirill Karabits © Sasha Gusov
Kirill Karabits
© Sasha Gusov

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra tend to lean towards a traditional programme layout for their concerts, where they play a shorter piece followed by a piece with a soloist and then a larger piece in the second half. Here, though, there was no lengthy audience wait in the first half of the concert while the piano was moved to the front of the stage – this was conveniently done in the interval, with extracts from Hector Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet symphony accounting for the entirety of the first half of the concert. Though conductor Kirill Karabits and the BSO didn’t perform the whole symphony, they played five extracts, telling the story of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet. Finished in 1839, it was the third of Berlioz’s four symphonies and one of several works that he based on Shakespeare. One of the hardest feats for an orchestra playing this work well is to present all of the different moods conveyed in the music: there is melancholy, joy, despair, agitation, and much more.

Post interval, British pianist Stephen Hough performed Liszt’s First Piano Concerto. It was an expressive and emotive performance typical of Hough, as he relaxed in the right parts of the piece whilst still maintaining an electric energy in the pianissimo moments – not that there were many such moments. Liszt’s score is by no means lenient on the soloist: it insists on heavy chordal passages followed by twinkling trills, some up to half a minute long. Hough rose gallantly to the challenge of consistency and endurance, playing without a score and made only a few blips here and there. The effort and energy expended in his performance showed an appetite for the score, which made the piece all the more magical. My only regret was that he didn’t play an encore despite the demands and shouts from the audience alongside a standing ovation.

Russian composer Alexander Scriabin’s The Poem of Ecstasy was an interesting choice of piece to finish with. The unrelenting, continuous climax of the piece was an intense addition to the programme. Following on from two fairly structured and harmonically based pieces, The Poem of Ecstasy became the odd one out. I was surprised that the audience response at the end of the piece was large as it was a very heavy end to the night. The organ pulled out the stops to provide the overwhelming edge of dynamics, where the build-up of sound in the final bars of the piece were some of the loudest I have ever witnessed at Colston Hall. There is no doubt that the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra played this piece well, but it still felt misplaced in the evening.

Kirill Karabits, now in his fifth season as Principal Conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra did an excellent job of getting the best out of the orchestra. It is fair to say that they flourish musically under his direction. This was undoubtedly one of their best concerts of the season that I have seen so far. Teamed with Karabits, the orchestra was in good balance for this concert, probably because they were in very good hands under Karabits. He is a comfortable conductor to watch. His gestures are modest yet functional and always seem to get the best out of an orchestra. In this instance, his understated performance showed a noticeable difference between this performance and the Bournemouth Symphony’s last performance at Colston Hall.

This was a successful concert all around. The orchestra truly impressed in a challenging programme and showed their diversity with the contrasting Scriabin ending the evening. The second half of the concert got the largest response from the audience with Hough’s demanding and impressive Liszt concerto being the favourite of the evening.