This concert, in a nifty piece of skilful programming, comprised a Beethoven sandwich, with Penderecki’s Fourth Symphony as the filling, both composers who clearly enjoy pushing the boundaries of classical form.

The Leonore Overture, composed for the revival of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio in 1806, is both dramatic and energetic. A strident opening chord, followed by a gentle descending scale led us into an unhurried introduction (Florestan’s aria). The reflective mood was soon replaced by an eruption of Beethovian vigour, delivered with great aplomb by the orchestra. After the ensuing quieter interlude, in which the horns were possibly a touch over-enthusiastic, the off-stage trumpet solo (signifying the arrival of the Prime Minister) was crisply played and well-balanced. The music then soon re-erupted into a rumbustious and joyful blast, enjoyed to the full by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leading us to a terrifically exciting conclusion.

Krzysztof Penderecki © Laivakoira (2015)
Krzysztof Penderecki
© Laivakoira (2015)

Kirill Karabits introduced the performance to Penderecki’s 4th Symphony by reading a letter from the composer in which he conveyed his view that it would be conducted in "a masterly way". This was most certainly the case. It was the UK première of a challenging work, played with great authority and conviction. Composed in 1989, the symphony was commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture and Radio France, in commemoration of the bicentenary of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the French Revolution. The work began life as a single Adagio movement but, at over 30 minutes in length, the composer decided it should stand as a symphony, comprising five distinct parts.

A strident call to attention by brass and strings was soon followed by viola and cor anglais solos, establishing a restlessness which pervaded the whole work. A configuration of three on-stage trumpets, plus three positioned in the gallery, was employed for dramatic effect. This created an unusual ‘surround-sound’ effect of harshness and tension; the combined use of these forces was well-balanced throughout as the music alternated between build-ups of relentless tension followed by brief respites of uneasy calm and quietude. Of special note were the bassoon and cor anglais solo passages where the music was simply allowed to drift in an elongated and evocative, meditative lament. Karabits’ treatment of the dynamic and tempi changes was superbly handled with his customary rigour and attention to detail, creating crisply articulated and rhythmically taut explosive climaxes.

The work comprises many exposed and unsupported passages from various sections and soloists within the orchestra and, as such, is a rich show-case for an orchestra’s skill. These were delivered adroitly by the many players involved with due respect being paid at all times for the ethos of the piece. A shiny array of rototoms were played in the fourth section, enhancing the truly threatening air created by the scurrying of the strings. The music then builds to a terrifying cacophonous climax before dying away to its uneasy resolution.

Karabits’ understanding and passion for the work ensured great cohesion throughout and elicited warm and appreciative applause from the audience. The second half of the concert was devoted to Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Written for the violinist Franz Clement, it was described by violinist Joseph Joachim as “the greatest, most uncompromising violin concerto”.

The long orchestral introduction, in which the main themes of the first movement are aired, was played with classical lightness and delicacy with a wonderfully warm tone. This very much sets the scene for the first movement which is a mix of purely orchestral vs solo episodes, Karabits ensuring that these flowed smoothly to form a cohesive whole.

Akiko Suwanai’s performance was first-rate throughout the concerto with crystal clear accuracy and dexterity, holding the audience rapt. From her first authoritative entry, we knew that we were in for a masterful performance; her statement of the main theme was confident and virtuosic whilst the lightness and delicacy of her playing in the more decorative passages was consummate and seemingly effortless. Her playing of the Kreisler cadenza was truly stunning with an awesome display of deadly accurate double-stopping.

In the Romance, a truly serene episode, Suwanai’s playing was light and elegant, producing a warmth from her Stradivarius which was attentively matched by Karabits and his orchestra. The transition into the final Rondo, by way of a bridging cadenza, was smoothly and naturally handled. The light and jaunty mood of the rondo was then enjoyed to the full by all, with crisp and nimble playing from Suwanai matched by the orchestra at every turn, leading to much rumbustious ‘merry-making’ from the orchestra and soloist alike. All in all, a most satisfying end to a great concert!

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