Two orchestral rarities and a world premiere make for boldly creative programming. But regular followers of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra are used to the adventurous in Kirill Karabits’ enterprising Voices From The East series. And no one could ever accuse him of ignoring his fellow Ukrainians, in this case Reinhold Glière (1875-1956) and the up-and-coming Anna Korsun, a native of the country’s Donbas region.

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Felix Klieser in rehearsal with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
© Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Even with the inclusion of Scriabin’s Second Symphony, the programme had no standout work to woo crowds, but the star attraction was the BSO’s artist-in-residence Felix Klieser, an exceptionally gifted French horn player, aged 31 and born without arms. Physical limitations aside, he sat in front of his instrument (mounted on a stand), removed his shoes, raised his left leg into position and played with his toes. Looking like yoga, it was a sure sign of triumph over adversity. And if one were in any doubt, Klieser played beautifully; one hardly believing he had a disability, so well controlled were his feet, breathing and lip technique. It was impossible not to be overawed by the sheer spectacle, one that occasionally threaten to divert us from Glière’s attractive, if conservative, Horn Concerto in B flat major of 1951.

It’s one of several largely neglected works by a composer who is remembered, if at all, for occasional performances of his ballet The Red Poppy and his Concerto for coloratura soprano and orchestra. But if history has been indifferent to Glière, Karabits and Klieser gave good reason to bring this seldom performed concerto to a wider audience. Karabits favoured a brisk tempo for the opening Allegro, thereby removing some of its pomposity yet keeping the work’s martial overtones and melodic warmth, the latter admirably served by Klieser’s flawless technique and expressive tone. 

The expansive main theme of the Andante could have graced the score of Brief Encounter. Set in motion by Edward Kay’s beguiling oboe, this was music of spun gold, with the BSO evidently enjoying Glière’s opulent sound world and Klieser fully immersed in its late Romantic idiom. He excelled in the virtuosic passagework of the finale, its brass chorales and pageantry dispatched with considerable flair, only to beg the question why this work is so overlooked. Following tumultuous applause Klieser returned to play Rossini’s Le Rendez-vous de chasse.

Earlier, the evening began with Anna Korsun’s Terricone, a BSO commission whose title, meaning an artificial mountain of mining waste, the composer suggests is “a poetic abstraction”. Her spoken introduction hardly prepared the audience for a work of uncompromising modernity, launched in the manner of a primordial scream. If it was intended to evoke the horror of war, it could not have been more graphic, its anguish fully realised in its dissonant blare with no room for melody or harmony, arresting the ear for its relentless assault on the senses, leaving this listener searching for any light in the relentless gloom. No doubt technically assured, and notwithstanding its intriguing inclusion within the percussion section of metal bucket, chains, lion roar and railway bar, the work left me unmoved.

Thankfully the evening ended on a more positive note, with Scriabin’s five movement symphony from 1901 culminating in resounding triumph and not a little pomp. Karabits clearly loves this music, (indeed, I’ve rarely seen him so animated), and he obtained an account of great character and spirit from a wonderfully responsive BSO, woodwind especially sensitive in the brooding Andante. Elsewhere, he caught the work’s soulful rumination and scintillating vigour to secure a performance of tremendous energy, overall creating a memorable end to a highly stimulating concert.