From Beethoven writing on the cusp of the 19th century to three pieces from the unsettled interwar years of the 20th, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Kirill Karabits brought a wide ranging programme from the south coast for their annual Proms visit.

Kirill Karabits © Denis Manokha
Kirill Karabits
© Denis Manokha

In his Symphony no.1 in C major, Beethoven threw down the gauntlet to his master Haydn, drawing on Classical models and opening new doors onto romantic exploration and uncertainty. From the harmonically disconcerting opening to the rumbustiously assertive finale, the composer teases and plays with expectations. In a brisk, rhythmically emphatic performance, Karabits highlighted the dynamic contrasts, and the piquant wind with period timpani and valveless trumpets gave astringency to the orchestral textures. The romping irreverent horn in the finale looked forward to the cheekiness of Richard Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel.

In 1946 the elderly Strauss, in exile in Switzerland, reworked themes from his fantastic opera Die Frau ohne Schatten into a late symphonic poem. In the destruction of post-war Europe he saw little chance of any production of this scenically and musically demanding opera, but the tale of fecundity and reconciliation were as pertinent as they had been in 1919. From the admonitory opening “Keikobad chords” to the radiant coda, the orchestral playing was imbued with all the glittering colours of the score. Especially effective were the almost cloying string portamenti as the Dyer's Wife dreams of sexual and material excess, though Strauss' substitution of a trombone for the baritone in the “Mir anvertraut” scene seemed overripe and indulgent. Karabits' command of dramatic pacing, transitions and the multi-layered textures makes one eager to hear him conduct the complete staged work.

Written in 1917 and receiving its Proms première, Prokofiev's mini cantata Seven, They are Seven reflected a vision of war-torn revolutionary times. Setting an ancient Chaldean text translated by Symbolist poet Konstantin Balmont, the seven minute work is scored for massive orchestra, large chorus and tenor soloist. The Seven are destructive powers unleashed upon the earth, which Prokofiev conjures up with brutally pounding rhythms and incantatory verbal repetitions. The National Youth Choir of Great Britain, who learned the work in one weekend, surmounted the orchestral barrage with assured attack, even in the tenors' repeated top Fs. Valiant tenor David Butt Philip, in a part of punishingly high range, embodied mankind and led the work to a mysterious prayerful conclusion.

Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, beefed up with two brass bands and even more timpani and percussion, seemed breezy and extrovert after the arcane demonic terrors of the Prokofiev. In his subversive way Walton parodies the pieties of the English oratorio tradition, in which he was well versed as a chorister, adding spice with jazz rhythms and blues inflections. The Choir, with rhythmic alertness, fresh tone, and verbal clarity, was a long way from the vibrato-laden plushness of some more mature choirs. Warm voiced bass-baritone James Rutherford in this context seemed more a gently authoritative headmaster than a fierce Old Testament prophet.

The orchestra revelled in the Technicolor excesses of the orchestration, and Karabits held together with energy the widely spaced chords and bands. What better way was there to end the evening than with a jubilant blast from the Albert Hall Organ?