The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra continues to be one of the most active ensembles in the current environment with its increased emphasis on performances streamed live to the world from an empty hall. The BSO’s most recent programme proposed three scores grouped under the vague, but audience-enticing title, “Love Lost and Found”.

David Hill rehearses the BSO
© Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

The evening started with a brief interlude, Träumerei am Kamin (Dreaming by the Fireside), one of the four included in Richard Strauss’ lesser-played opera Intermezzo. The orchestral segment is full of that kind of melodic nostalgia that could be detected in Der Rosenkavalier or many other later Straussian scores. However, the interlude provides no indication that his writing can be full of bravado, irony, or self-deprecation as it is many times in this very Intermezzo, a “bourgeois comedy” based on autobiographical reminiscences. Guided by Associate Guest Conductor David Hill, the BSO imbued the music with significant warmth, even if a rendition justifiably lacking in contrasting features was premonitory for things to come.

Mahler's early song cycle Lieder einer fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) already displays the composer’s characteristic style, the rhythmical disruptions, the wailing dissonances, the rapid changes in mood. If the orchestra's exaggerated sweetness was suitable for the Strauss, it served less well for Mahler, lacking tension from the very first clarinet run. Mezzo Jennifer Johnston has a smooth-edged, resonant voice and she did put feeling into every utterance. However, her rendition was only partially successful. The character’s sinuous evolution – from grief in Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht to finding solace in the midst of nature (Ging heut' Morgen übers Feld) to abrupt desperation (Ich hab ein glühend Messer) to sad acceptance (Die zwei blauen Augen) – was insufficiently detailed. The doubts, the fragility, the angst that mark this score were not underlined enough. The statement at the beginning of the third song sounded wild and sinister, as it should, but up to that point several phrases had just dragged. In the first movement, the swinging pendulum between the voice’s Andante and the orchestra’s more urgent Allegro was barely perceptible. There was little dialogue between the soloist and individual members of the orchestra, the ensemble seeming content to stay in the background.

Jennifer Johnston and the BSO
© Sunny Brahms, but musical tensions minimised

The rendition of Brahms’ Symphony no. 2 in D major was pleasant, but without any enlightening surprises. Differences between light and shade could have been more pregnant and edges sharper. With convincing gestures, Hill tried to elicit a higher level of energy from his players, not always successfully. Acting as principal horn, Alex Wide had several inspired solo moments and Brahms’ beloved cellos brought warmth to the soundscape. Nonetheless, the tension brewing under the serene surface of the first movement was not emphasised enough. The contrast between the Allegro non troppo and the following Adagio non troppo was minimised. In fact, non troppo could be a good characterisation for the evening. Sometimes, moderation can be a double-edged sword.

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