Borodin’s opera Prince Igor was composed over a 20 year period (being first performed in 1890, three years after his death). He never completed the work (he didn’t like to allow his music to get in way of his scientific endeavours). The overture comprises music from the opera and was arranged and orchestrated by Glazunov. It’s a fantastic curtain-raiser and Kuerti made the very most of the drama, eliciting some fine playing from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. A well-controlled introduction, built up to a very brisk Russian dance although the pace was slightly too fast for the sinuous clarinet melody to be enjoyed fully. The romantic string melody which followed was, however, very well paced and expressed. The recapitulation was again a little swift, with the orchestra slightly falling over themselves with the sheer speed that was set. Nevertheless, it was a spirited performance with nifty brass playing and some good antiphonal effects.

Julian Kuerti © Dario Acosta
Julian Kuerti
© Dario Acosta

Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in F major was composed in 1957 for his son Maxim and premiered by him in the same year. Composed soon after the death of Stalin, it’s ebullient in character, reflecting the weight that had been lifted from artists of all disciplines at that time. Overall, the performance, whilst taken at a quick pace, felt a little rushed and unsettled at times with some loss of clarity and rhythmic security – but there were some fine displays of virtuoso playing throughout from both soloist and orchestra.

A cheeky woodwind introduction to the first movement was followed by a legato treatment of the first subject by Romanovsky, which progressed into a slightly hurried first movement. The “snack” of the snare drum felt weak as the piano really took off but the second subject was well paced. However, the strings disappeared too far into the background and didn’t provide quite enough support to the piano. A really vigorous development was very exciting with some skilful playing all round and the reprise of the second subject was exhilarating. Romanovsky really pushed ahead in the cadenza but was bought back under tight control by Kuerti for the recapitulation, which built to a stunning conclusion.

The second movement is achingly beautiful and tender, being very reminiscent of Rachmaninov. Romanovsky’s playing was a little restrained, sometimes lacking the warmth and expression which this romantic interlude justifies. The final high-spirited movement was effervescent. It doesn’t take itself very seriously, with an abundance of “Hanon piano exercise” style passages – Dmitri’s little joke as a homage to the fact that his son had just graduated! Romanovsky’s playing was again a fluid legato, which led to some loss of individual note clarity, but the cat-and-mouse chase with the orchestra was great fun.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 5 in E minor was first performed in 1888, conducted by the composer. Even though he remained unconvinced about the work, it has become a firm favourite in concert programming. Like the Fourth Symphony, it is obsessed with the concept of Fate – although in this case, he prefers to call it “Providence”. The Providence theme, which appears throughout the work, is announced immediately and gives a great sense of cohesion to the symphony.

Overall, this was a very good performance with some great romanticism and rhythmic tautness. Kuerti directed an unhurried introduction to the first movement, which led smoothly into the Allegro con anima and statement of the first subject. A convincing build-up to the climax, nicely executed antiphonal effects and a smooth transition to the second subject (complete with a rustic little transitional bridge linking to the lilting and poignant second theme) led to a further crashing, dramatic climax and development section, making for tight cohesion. The build-up to the climax in the recapitulation was a touch hurried and could have been given a little more drama before descending to the murk of the coda.

The Andante is a movement of great poignancy, building to a passionate outpouring of emotion. The horn solo felt overly delicate to truly set the scene for this and was slightly overpowered by the orchestral accompaniment. Despite this, Kuerti successfully led the BSO through the turbulence of the ensuing drama of this movement with the skilful execution of some truly heart-rending climaxes.

The Waltz was a delight with a lovely lilt and elegance from the BSO. An ominous reminder of the Providence theme was delicately stated by the woodwind, followed by fortissimo chords to conclude the movement. The last movement opened with a nobly played statement of the Providence theme (which has a prominent part throughout the Finale) and led into a crisply stated first subject. The ensuing build-up to the second subject was very skilfully handled by Kuerti, generating great muscular rhythm and energy in the orchestra.

This very much set the mood which Kuerti maintained, taking us at breakneck speed through the exciting development and recapitulation to the final triumphant coda, with its grand re-statement of the Providence theme.