Each year, BBC Proms provides a great opportunity for the UK regional orchestras (in particular for the non-BBC orchestras such as the Bournemouth Symphony, the Halle and the Liverpool Philharmonic) to showcase themselves. This year, I decided to sample Kirill Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony as I have been hearing good things about this partnership for a while. Judging from Wednesday’s performance, they are definitely on top form and the recent announcement that Karabits has extended his contract with the orchestra until 2015/16 season is indication of their relationship.

Kirill Karabits © BBC / Sasha Gusov
Kirill Karabits
© BBC / Sasha Gusov

The Ukrainian Karabits had chosen a programme with an Ukrainian/Russian link. He opened with Liszt’s symphonic poem Mazeppa, a colourful portrayal of the historical Ukrainian hero, although Liszt’s inspiration came via a poem by Victor Hugo. The work depicts the story about Mazeppa being caught by the enemies and then tied to a horse and let loose until he was rescued just in time. The orchestra showed great energy from the beginning and there was some virtuosic playing from the string section representing the galloping horse. The work is quite episodic, but Karabits maneuvered the mood changes deftly without losing overall momentum.

Glière’s concerto for coloratura soprano and orchestra (1943) is a real curiosity – where better than the proms to programme it – and the amiable Irish soprano Ailish Tynan pulled it off with aplomb. Reinhold Glière (1875-1956) was a highly respected Ukrainian composer (hence Karabits’ familiarity with the piece) and a contemporary of Rachmaninov. The work has no text and is written like an instrumental concerto – the soprano is required to sing the whole work on a vowel which must be quite challenging. It is in two movements, the first dark and dramatic and the second more lively and virtuosic in the style of Strauss’s Zerbinetta. Tynan ‘s voice seemed to project well in the hall, and she excelled in the pyrotechnics, hitting all the high notes (including a final high F) with ease and charm.

What impressed me most in this concert about Karabits’ conducting was the fact that although he keeps a tight rein over the orchestra, he never drives them too hard and gives the players ample space to express themselves. I thought this approach worked well in Rachmaninov’s grand and glorious – but sometimes seemingly long-winded – Second Symphony.

Karabits immediately drew the audience into the music from the lyrical Largo opening of the symphony, before an ebullient Allegro which he kept light and forward-moving. The tuneful Scherzo was also excellently paced, whereas the third movement was warm and expansive without wallowing in sentimentality (beautiful solo contricutions from the principal clarinet Kevin Banks as well as from the leader Marieke Blankenstijn). Perhaps the finale lacked some of the power and bravura and they could have let their hair down a little more, but it was nevertheless a hugely satisfying performance. It was very much a team effort – the orchestra may not be as spectacular or as sophisticated as the top London orchestras, but their enthusiasm and commitment was apparent to see and hear, and I left the hall very contented.