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Bach (arr. Webern), Berg, Beethoven: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Kirill Karabits (conductor), Sergei Khachatryan (soloist); Town Hall, Cheltenham, 10.3.11. (RJ)

Bach (arr. Webern): Ricercar

Berg: Violin Concerto

Beethoven: Symphony No 3 'Eroica'

If concerts by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra feature but rarely on this website, this does not imply that the BSO's musical activities are unworthy of attention. An ensemble which can count such icons as Marin Alsop, Yakov Kreizberg and Andrew Litton among its past principal conductors is clearly no "also ran"; and the latest occupant of this post, Kirill Karabits, seems determined to add lustre to the orchestra's reputation. Mr Karabits was shortlisted for the Royal Philharmonic Society conductor's award last year. Need I say more?

If this particular concert is anything to go by, he has no intention of "playing safe". Including just one work by a composer of the Second Viennese School is likely to raise a few eyebrows even in the 21st century, but this programme featured two of them! Admittedly, Bach was the inspiration for the first work - one of his ricercars (master-fugues) from The Musical Offering - but while the notes in Webern's arrangement were Bach's, the idiom was unmistakably Webern's. Melodic lines started by one instrument were passed over to others - to the horns, the trombones or the solo violin of the orchestra's guest leader, Jessica Mattheas - and tonal colour predominated over the melodic structure. Mr Karabits was at pains to bring out the delicacy of the music almost until the end when the whole orchestra came together in a majestic Baroque-sounding climax.

Berg's Violin Concerto was dedicated to Manon Gropius, Alma Mahler's daughter, who died at the age of 18. It is a very personal work, particularly in the first movement, regarded as an affectionate character sketch of the girl. It opens tenderly with the violin playing above the harp followed by the woodwind and then the cellos. Violinist Sergey Khachatryan created a dreamlike atmosphere with his lyrical playing in the andante section, becoming more rhapsodic and passionate in the allegretto. The second movement had a more violent, anguished start with harsh eruptions from the brass, but the anguish died down in the cadenza where Mr Khachatryan's violin started quietly and then seemed to soar heavenward. Turbulence returned in a raucous passage where the full orchestra and soloist seemed to rail against the injustice of Manon's untimely death, but was relieved by a tranquil adagio with - miracle of miracles - the Bach chorale Es ist genug, so nimm, Herr, meinen Geist as accompaniment. This was a fine, persuasive performance from the soloist matched by some refined playing from the orchestra under Mr Karabits' excellent direction.

I am not sure that Beethoven's Eroica was the ideal companion to the other works on the programme. Clearly ,the promoters felt the need to include a popular work to pull in the crowd, but to my ears it felt strangely old-fashoned after what had preceded it. Nevertheless, I re-adjusted to the world of tonality and found much to praise in the performance. Although Kirill Karabits is a young man, there was nothing brash about his interpretation of the work; indeed he seemed to dwell on the more refined and reflective passages. Delicacy may be his stock-in-trade, yet he unleashed plenty of power in the fugue in the second movement. The Scherzo pulsated with nervous energy with the horns distinguishing themselves in the trio, and he steered the orchestra through the complexities of the finale with skill.

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra are clearly masters of the standard repertoire, but they are obviously keen to embrace interesting new challenges as well. For this reason we shall keep them on our radar and attempt to offer them better coverage in future.


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