Emotional turbulence, dreamy introspection and a sunny optimism formed the ingredients for this Romantic programme, encompassing works begun within a thirty-year span. Above all it was an evening of expansive lyricism which worked best in the Germanic offerings despite being driven by an over-energised Clemens Schuldt making his Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra debut.

Clemens Schuldt © Marco Borggreve
Clemens Schuldt
© Marco Borggreve

Schumann’s Manfred Overture was given a vibrant and well-paced account. From its incisive opening chords (sounding like pistol cracks) through to its resigned close, Schuldt fully outlined the work’s melodic profusion. And there was no shortage of eternal yearning and tempestuousness from the BSO which gave admirable expression to the tortured guilt of Lord Byron’s tragic hero. Pushing forward here, retreating there, Schuldt drew warm and sensitive playing from his forces – romantic ardour to the fore and gripping throughout.

Since the premiere of Dvořák’s Violin Concerto in A minor in 1883, its gradual but growing appreciation last century was down to the advocacy (amongst others) of Yehudi Menuhin, Váša Příhoda and Nathan Milstein. While it has never secured the same degree of affection as the composer’s Cello Concerto, it is now in the repertoire of numerous violinists. That said, with the score ready to hand, it looked as though this was a recent addition for Baiba Skride whose own recorded repertoire includes excursions on and off the beaten track. The first movement took a while to settle. Like Schuldt, Skride was also making her BSO debut, but her tone varied from richly velvet to cold steel and intonation was occasionally wayward. Whilst not quite at ease enough to conjure a consistent tone or identify with the movement’s joie de vivre and grandeur, she found a more confiding tone in the Adagio, building in soulfulness and some tender collaborations with the woodwind. Confidence restored, Skride found her true form in the ‘open-air’ Finale, now playful and seemingly enjoying her off-beat accents and fully entering into the spirit of its giocoso element. The BSO were sensitive and affectionate companions on the way with crisply defined rhythms, assertive brass and timpani at the close, all efficiently coordinated by Schuldt.

Brahms' Symphony no. 2 in D major is generally considered to be his ‘Pastoral’, its relaxed melodic outpouring immediately recognised by its first audiences in the late 1870s. This account underlined the work’s sweeping lyricism, vigour and spontaneity. All very well, but little of the youthful brio from the podium and the excitable, schoolboy arm-waving was reflected in phrase shapes or dynamics from the stage. Refined strings, nicely balanced woodwind and well-behaved brass and timpani were all present and correct, but exaggerated gestures had only limited effect. Its over-heated direction drew a solid rendition with little interpretative insight. In the slow movement gilded cellos caught the ear and the third was imbued with elfin gaiety and Viennese charm. From here it was headlong into a hard-driven con spirito finale. Its cumulative momentum developed all too soon, thereby reducing the dramatic impact of the apotheosis. Exciting as it was, the long-anticipated grandstand finish (with those wonderful pealing trombones) was robbed of any majesty and what could have been an ecstatic release felt harried. Brahms’ sunny optimism and restful summer holiday becoming a day at the races.

***11