A Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra programme linking two early Romantic works and a Haydn symphony, very much an epitome of the Classical idiom, remained unchanged when the originally announced conductor, Marta Gardolińska, unable to travel, was replaced by Gergely Madaras. Taking over the performance at short notice, the young Hungarian conductor deserves to be commended for not making any changes to the list of works he inherited, one of them indeed rarely performed.

Gergely Madaras, Benjamin Grosvenor and the BSO
© Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Fanny Mendelssohn’s Overture in C major, her only purely orchestral work, remained, like many other opuses of hers, buried in an archive for over 150 years. It was published for the first time at the end of last century after a significant reconstruction effort. Somehow reminiscent of her brother’s style, the ten-minute overture is neither harmonically nor dynamically daring. Nevertheless, it is a testament to her sensibility and to her skills of bringing out rich timbral combinations (palpable in the dialogue between strings and winds following the slow introduction or in the later call and response sequence between horns and trumpets). The performance was clean, but Madaras could have done more to bring out certain details (the cellos in the development) and to emphasise contrasts more.

Conceived a couple of years earlier, just before the 20-year-old composer left Poland for good, Chopin’s Piano Concerto no. 1 in E minor is an inventive work, transcending the limits of predefined forms with its transitional passages and its surprising chromatic shifts. Meant to be a vehicle for displaying the composer-pianist’s virtuosity, it can be – in the right hands – much more than that. Benjamin Grosvenor, the BSO's current artist-in-residence, effortlessly progressed from expressive to elegiac to feisty, the “tonalities” corresponding to the concerto’s three movements. Especially in the Romanze – Larghetto, Grosvenor’s floating legato simply made listeners ignore any mechanical aspects of piano playing. Vanquishing technical difficulties was not an act of bravado, but one of basking in modesty. Thunderclaps were draped in velvet. There was never any hint of over-sentimentality. At the same time, the dialogue between piano and orchestra was rather unilateral. Same motifs that had brilliance coming from the piano sounded dull when played by the ensemble, lending verisimilitude to historical qualms about Chopin’s poor orchestration. Shimmering pizzicatos were barely audible and wind counter-melodies sounded remote. Conductor and players gave the impression they were just adapting to the pace defined by the pianist. With few exceptions – the piano and bassoon exchange in the middle movement – the orchestra was just there in the background trying not to divert the audience’s attention from the protagonist. An uncommon, carefully-rendered encore – Granados’ Danza de la moza donosa – demonstrated how widespread (temporally and geographically) Chopin’s influence was.

A rare happening nowadays, the evening’s final work was one of Haydn’s polished gems, his Symphony no. 88 in G major. This rendition showcased both Madaras’ elegant, determined conducting style and the BSO’s cohesiveness. From the lovely linking of successive statements stemming from the same motif in the first movement to the cello-and-oboe intoned theme of the Largo to the jolly Finale (with its perpetuum-mobile-like single theme and the exquisite contrapuntal passage in its middle), it was a well-built, brisk, and charming performance.

This performance was reviewed from the Bournemouth SO's live video stream