Fresh, invigorating performances from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday evening at the Lighthouse did much to obliterate political distractions and forget more localised grumbles over train disruptions. With such strong direction from American conductor James Feddeck, replacing Ion Marin, and characterful playing from both the Bournemouth players and soloist Vadym Kholodenko, the excursion was well worth the effort.

James Feddeck © Terry Johnston
James Feddeck
© Terry Johnston

Last March the Ukrainian pianist stepped in at short notice to replace Alexander Gavrylyuk for Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto, and here he impressed once again with his unassailable technique in the Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor. Overall, this warhorse was given a moving account dwelling less on sentimentality (gentle musing never cloying) but more on power and playfulness, its declamatory opening bars unfolding as a prowling crescendo, compelling in its gathering weight and superbly paced with just a hint of accelerando. Kholodenko’s unfailingly accurate passagework was supported by a bright clean tone, sparkling at the top and with plenty of ballast at the bottom. Feddeck drew some inspired playing from his Bournemouth forces, with richly upholstered cellos and a peerless horn solo from Fabian van de Geest both integrated, as were the impactful orchestral tuttis, into a flowing account with no shortage of dramatic intensity.

At the start of the central Adagio, the pianissimo from the BSO strings was akin to a whispered confession, where you held your breath to hear Kholodenko’s first entry. Woodwinds seduced too in diaphanous playing, all the sweeter for caressing tone and shapely phrasing, one moment a beguiling flute, the next a delicate clarinet, the whole marked by a chamber music intimacy. But this was no self-communing dream, with Feddeck sustaining interest and momentum throughout, with soloist and players alert to one another in a wonderfully stylish partnership. The finale was no less rewarding, with Kholodenko delivering glistening articulation as if elves were scampering across the keyboard in a frisky yet purposeful rendition with plenty of room for drama and grandeur and the whole buttressed by a solid foundation from lower strings. Nothing workmanlike or routine here, this was the BSO in top drawer music making. After rapturous applause, Kholodenko returned to give Beethoven’s Bagatelle in F major, Op. 33 and charmed the ear with scrupulous attention to dynamics and characteristic sensitivity.

Mahler's symphonies have been regularly appearing at the Lighthouse under Kirill Karabits’ leadership, and this was a highly charged performance of the composer’s Symphony no. 1 in D major “Titan”, last played in Poole in 2015. The joys of spring swept through the opening movement, as a silvery triangle, spritely woodwinds and trilling horns brought life to its Alpine evocations – all beautifully illuminated in a well-paced account with a pulse-raising closing paragraph. Peasant merrymaking was nicely caught in the swagger of the second movement, Feddeck imparting plenty of swirling beer and Lederhosen and its waltz-like trio was a beautifully elegant affair. David Daly’s double bass captivated at the start of the funeral march; its renowned Frère Jacques tune given out with haunting perception. Thereafter, Feddeck’s coaxed vivid playing to underline Mahler’s ‘Jewish Wedding Music’ and his schizophrenic mood swings.

And so to the finale which revealed Mahler’s hysteria and tenderness in equal measure. But it was the triumphant coda, with the entire horn section standing, that left the most memorable impression. Feddeck and the BSO were on superlative form; politics and train disruptions banished for a couple of hours of cathartic performances.

*****