Two of Schumann’s more innovative orchestral works provided the main course in a programme with two bite-size helpings of Wagner. German Romantics with little in common, other than their residence in Dresden in the 1840s, gave this enterprising twinning an historical perspective. But it was the pleasant surroundings of Düsseldorf and the Rhine that fired the imagination of Schumann where he and his wife moved to during the summer of 1850 to take up an appointment as its municipal conductor.
The evening began with an atmospheric account of the Prelude to Act 1 from Wagner’s Lohengrin – never a comfortable start for the violins – its dynamic trajectory well articulated and string ensemble gaining confidence as it progressed.
Schumann may not have been considered as revolutionary as Wagner, his Cello Concerto in A minor is a quietly radical work. Its innovative design has three linked movements and an accompanied cadenza. While this novelty does not disguise its lack of drama, the concerto provides expressive opportunities for a soloist, admirably fulfilled here by Steven Isserlis. His love of the work was clear in an account that underlined Schumann’s expansive lyricism, sometimes ruminating but always eloquent and made especially gratifying here in the soloist’s sweet-toned upper register. From Isserlis there was also a sense of personal reverie, never dominating and always serving Schumann’s Romantic sensibility. In a work described by the composer as “a concert piece for cello and orchestral accompaniment” the BSO were ideal partners, sensitive to a fault in the work’s dreamy slow movement and eagerly responsive to the witty exchanges in the finale. Pace and balance were well-judged throughout.
For an encore Isserlis, and the BSO strings, produced a polished performance of the Andante cantabile from Tchaikovsky’s first string quartet. With artistry and a flair for communication like this, no wonder Isserlis is so popular in Poole.
After the interval more Wagner, in the shape of Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin enlivened by unequivocal brass that made clear their presence in this magisterial account.
Schumann's Symphony no. 3 in E flat major “Rhenish” was given a no nonsense account, forthright from the off. Everything here gelled and at this tempo nothing sounded pedestrian. If the second subject seemed “lost”, the consequent gain in momentum was advantageous. Horns were glorious in their exposed presentation of the main theme, and strings thrilled when they recalled the tune at the recapitulation.
The second movement was smoothly rendered but a little more intimacy would have been welcome in the third. The fourth, with its evocation of Cologne Cathedral, was marvellously noble – trombones (making their first appearance) adding their own solemnity with a wonderful unanimity of tone. Back to a brisk, business as usual tempo for the finale in what proved to be a most exciting account. From scurrying strings and woodwind, horns roared out their earlier 'Cathedral' theme and a solo trumpet impishly squirrelled across the stave. Kirill Karabits knew just how to illuminate this score and the BSO was on magnificent form. Düsseldorf may have been the inspiration behind this work but it was Poole that provided this life-affirming experience.
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