This was a concert that provided the opportunity for so many individual musicians to shine and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s shone brightly, showcasing its truly amazing talent.

Boris Giltburg © Sasha Gusov
Boris Giltburg
© Sasha Gusov

La Valse was completed in 1920 and is Ravel’s homage to the Viennese Waltz, inspired by Johann Strauss II. Ravel himself wrote, “It’s a kind of apotheosis of the Viennese Waltz… a fantastic whirl of destiny”. From the very beginning, we are left in no doubt that all’s not well – the double basses introduce the work with a pulsating rhythm, the uneasy mood being perfectly set by the BSO. The strings and woodwind then take over and depict the “whirling clouds” that “give glimpses, through rifts, of couples dancing”. Alexander Shelley’s elegant conducting, combined with the BSO’s ever-responsive playing, ensured the grace and culture of Vienna was well reflected in the main statement of the Waltz. I did feel though that this was perhaps a little too controlled and should have been enjoyed with more freedom and joie de vivre. This is soon interrupted by strident chords which herald the descent to a range of darker moods - here the momentum and crescendo needs to be relentless to ensure the work isn’t sectionalised and the inexorable dance macabre is allowed to take flight - this was slightly undersold. Toward the end, however, we were treated to a fantastic, frantic dance to the finish.

Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no. 3 in C major, completed in 1922, is one of his best-known and loved works. A brief, reflective and nostalgic, opening to the first movement, is soon replaced by a whirlwind of vigour, interspersed with cheeky humour and pure romanticism - Shelley and Boris Giltburg took us on a seemingly effortless roller-coaster ride through this with an outstanding performance that was rhythmically exhilarating, never lost momentum and paid meticulous attention to detail. Shelley also ensured that the romantic heart of the music was enjoyed to the full.

The second movement is a theme and five variations. A lyrical theme is presented by the piano which then alternates between variations of quiet, reflective calm versus boisterous and hugely demanding treatments for the pianist and orchestra. These were surmounted with an authority and assurance that never faltered. Giltburg’s deadly accurate virtuosity, coupled with his lightness and delicacy of touch, ensured all of the movement’s moods were seamlessly and effectively conveyed.

The main theme of the last movement is immediately presented by the bassoons before the piano and orchestra take over. Again this was performed with zest and panache by Giltburg. Shelley gave the central and reflective slower section the space it needed to breathe, and made the very most of the lush, romantic writing, before the piano takes over with a cheeky, surreal and unsettling burlesque idea – which leads into an uneasy interplay between soloist and orchestra before finally resolving into a further, even richer outpouring of gorgeous romanticism – enjoyed here by all. Vigour and relentless impetus then drive the piece to its conclusion – the execution of this was stunning and rounded off a truly dazzling and terrific performance.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, written in 1888, is an acknowledged masterpiece of orchestration, full of beautiful melodies and rich orchestral colours – both sensual and lush. The composer used “The Arabian Nights” as the basis for the piece, but always insisted it was not a programme piece. It is symphonic in scale and comprises four movements. The first, “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship”, presents two themes, representing the Sultan (brass and strings) and Scheherazade (solo violin). From the very outset, the solo violin has a major role throughout the work and was exquisitely played by BSO leader, Amyn Merchant. Shelley’s responsive conducting ensured the huge sweep of drama was played and enjoyed to the full.

The second movement, “The Tale of the Kalendar Prince”, again featuring Scheherazade’s theme, is followed by a new theme on the bassoon which is then taken up by the oboe (sensitively played by the soloists). The music then develops in true symphonic style with wide ranging moods (some very skilful playing from every section of the orchestra, particularly brass and woodwind here) and a truly frightening build-up to the close.

The third movement, “The Young Prince and the Young Princess”, is truly beguiling – the Prince theme being played by the violins and the Princess by the clarinet. The piece is effortlessly lovely and romantic and was played beautifully, directed with a natural flow and expressiveness.

The conclusion of the work, “Festival at Baghdad/ Sea/ Shipwreck”, comprises an electrifying chase back and forth through the orchestra, with Shelley and the BSO capturing the rumbustious festival and build-up to the inexorable climax when the terrifying sea music and shipwreck depiction ensue. The solo violin rounds off the movement with a quiet and peaceful resolution.

This was a truly outstanding and memorable concert with all performers at the top of their game.