Yesterday marked the 120th anniversary of the very first Prom concert, held in the Queen’s Hall. The programme cover for that 1895 concert doesn’t list the repertoire, but it wouldn’t have contained any of the fare that the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra brought from the south coast for last night’s Prom. All three works were written within a short span, composed between the turbulent years 1944-45. Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony and the Sea Interludes from Britten’s opera Peter Grimes made swift Proms debuts, but Erich Korngold’s lushly romantic Violin Concerto had to wait until 1997 for its belated Proms bow.

Kirill Karabits conducts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Kirill Karabits conducts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Its coastal base – Poole rather than its original Bournemouth seaside home – should have ensured the BSO was right at home in Britten’s “Sea Interludes”. However, “Dawn” was very measured and relaxed, Karabits biding his time, and cellos and basses were rather tepid, missing some of the menace in the “Moonlight” interlude. Flute flecks illuminated that nocturnal scene nicely, however, and woodwinds chimed and chirruped effectively through “Sunday Morning”. The BSO played in last year’s production of Peter Grimes at Grange Park Opera and by the time the Storm erupted, the orchestra had caught the whiff of salt in its nostrils once again. The brass section was especially imposing as the waves rose and crashed dramatically.

Prokofiev’s musical DNA is easily detected; the grinding dissonances, the long arcs of stratospheric violin writing, and the clockwork percussion rattling away are all instantly recognisable to anyone who has heard his great ballets Cinderella or Romeo and Juliet. Kirill Karabits has been putting his Bournemouth orchestra through its Prokofiev paces in recent years and its playing reveals a satisfying level of earthiness; the weighty brass chords even had a touch of Soviet dirt beneath their fingernails. Karabits’ conducting is undemonstrative, all neat flicks and polite nods, yet he is full of quiet authority, drawing fiery playing. The motoric pulse of the Allegro marcato second movement whirred and clicked, punctuated by wailing woodwind protests and brass of demonic force, which returned in the buoyant finale, laced with a serving of Prokofiev sarcasm. The high violin lines in the Adagio formed the emotional centrepiece of the symphony, the BSO strings soaring through its bittersweet phrases.

That level of string lushness sometimes eluded both orchestra and soloist in Korngold’s concerto. Written as he turned his back on Hollywood film scores to regain his reputation as a ‘classical’ composer, Korngold still employed quotes from some of those scores, such as Another Dawn and The Prince and the Pauper. In the outer movements, Nicola Benedetti often found herself swamped by the orchestra, compromised by the challenging Albert Hall acoustic. The silvery ease of the opening phrase struggled to fully bloom. Instead, it was orchestral detail which shone through – grumbling bass clarinet and flickering celesta – in the muscular orchestral accompaniment. Benedetti was at her strongest in the sensual central movement, an exquisite lyrical line drawing in the audience, and in the tender encore, a transcription of the Marietta Lied from Korngold’s opera Die tote Stadt.

***11