Programming is a skill in itself. Do you group composers from the same geographical area or aim at a consonance between key signatures, opus numbers and other numerological delights? The Polish conductor Marta Gardolińska wasn’t tempted by any of the above. In charge of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra whose Leverhulme Young Conductor in Association she has previously been, she chose something classical to open with and something modern to close this concert, with a short Romantic sandwich in between.

Marta Gardolińska conducts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
© Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
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Online events of this kind should aim at delivering not only a musically satisfying but also an aesthetically pleasing experience. Public health protocols in Bournemouth may well require the conductor to be masked, but when she is at least two metres from the nearest string player and the face is largely hidden, an important expressive element is missing. Not much can be done to change the expanse of metal grating in the Lighthouse, but when there is also a cold blue light illuminating the platform, any feeling of enveloping warmth is merely an illusion. Three camera directors were credited at the end: did this account for the sudden jerky pans across the stage, shots of the horn section rendered headless and a brass player sipping water?

One of the many might-have-beens is the career of Lyadov. If he hadn’t been born lazy (Prokofiev’s view) and part of a family renowned for its loose living (Rimsky-Korsakov’s stricture), he might be remembered for much more today. After all, Diaghilev offered him the commission to write a new ballet detailing the story of the fairy-tale firebird, but it was Stravinsky who ended up with all the glory. And if the background presenter had not talked over the first few bars of The Enchanted Lake and loud noises on the platform had not disrupted those soft shimmering textures, this might just possibly have been a memorable account. As it was, the performance was stymied at birth.

Gardolińska’s long flowing arms seemed to be urging rather more out of her players than Schubert’s Third Symphony was yielding from the notes. There were a few personal touches: the sweetly sighing bassoons and then oboes in the Trio section of the third movement, for instance. Yet there was not much dynamic variation in the opening movement; the Menuetto almost bordered on a gallop and therefore robbed the concluding Presto of its exuberant impact. What was definitely lacking was a sense of charm.

Her characterisation of Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony yielded better results. The composer himself stated: “It is a merry little piece. Musicians will like to play it, and critics will delight in blasting it.” Gardolińska clearly took the composer at his word: the opening Allegro was genial and good-humoured in tone, the chirruping woodwind and scurrying strings in the short Presto movement stressed its scherzo-like character, and the following Largo gave the lower brass an opportunity to shine. However, interpreters who take this view of the work then need to secure much crisper playing than we had here, especially in the concluding Allegretto where the strings sounded tired and the march-like theme that leads into the coda failed to exhaust its potential for swagger.

Despite all the fun and high jinks there is another side to this symphony. I missed the sarcasm and the way it so effectively mocks bombastic grandiloquence, yet in the longest of the five movements, the Moderato, there was something that approached a sense of desolation, not least in the many finely voiced wind dialogues. A pity that Gardolińska remained so wedded to the vaudeville elements.


This performance was reviewed from the BSO's live video stream

**111