Review: BSO ‘Smooth Classics’ Performance @ The Great Hall

If, by any chance, you were attending the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s ‘Smooth Classics’ concert after reading my preview, you would have been as surprised as I was to read the programme and discover that my preview was entirely useless to you. The final running order bears no resemblance to the order I had advertised, and I was particularly horrified to find that Debussy’s Clair de Lune had been removed from the order of play – the piece I was anticipating most. Debussy was replaced by Elgar’s Romance for Bassoon, a rare chance for soloist Tammy Thorn to act as virtuoso, and one she did not waste. The order for the first half began with Peer Gynt, then departed from my preview with Elgar following, then Gluck, Mozart, Handel and Dvořák before the interval. After the fifteen-minute break, the concert resumed with Gabriel Fauré’s Pavane, Albinoni, the second Mozart piece, Mascagni, Mendelssohn and finished with Beethoven. Much to my delight, after one curtain call, the orchestra played Clair de Lune as their encore.

I decided for this performance to forgo the back rows and invest £6 more on a front row seat at £22. Needless to say, this was money well spent – my seat in row AA at the front left of the stalls gave me a far more compelling experience. Rather than catching the occasional glint of brass and seeing the distant movement of the bows from the back, I was instead confronted with the expressions of the players, the fervency and immediacy of their movements, and the notes on their scores. It also allowed me to pick up on minute imperfections that reassured me that I was indeed listening to and observing a live orchestral performance. One of the violins on the left side being just a shade out of tune, an early entrance on a response in Peer Gynt, and some disunion in the pizzicato sections were all noticeable errors, but their presence was more of a reassurance than a distraction, because it made the impeccable playing seem even more authentic and delightful.


The tone and atmosphere of this concert was decidedly less formal than my previous outing, as the players had shed their white tie in favour of fairly drab black suits, shirts, ties, and dresses. Leading the informal charge was French guest conductor, Victor Aviat, sans tie, with his shirt untucked. He was a light hand on the tiller adopting a relaxed, sweeping style with his baton, that very nearly ended in disaster when his free hand clipped a soloist’s music stand with one of its grand freestyle gestures. Between pieces, should stands require moving or instruments shuffling about he took up a cordless microphone and took it upon himself to either educate or entertain the audience of evidently veteran classical music fans. His routine was sprinkled with harmlessly condescending attempts at audience participation, such as asking this crowd, of all crowds: ‘Do you know what this is?’, gesturing to what was quite clearly a bassoon. A reasonable question to ask a captive audience in a school auditorium, perhaps, but not at a professional concert. Nevertheless, it made things free and easy and served to fill the space between pieces, as the demands of so many various styles of music forced the players to move around on stage quite a bit between performances, as soloists on instruments including harp, clarinet, bassoon, and oboe all had to make their way to the front of the stage for the duration of their pieces.

My only real gripe of the evening, besides the replacement of Clair de Lune with Elgar’s bassoon, regardless of encore, was the suitability of Dvořák’s Largo from his ‘New World Symphony’ in a concert dubbed ‘Smooth’. Deceptively smooth at its opening, the movement descends into a frenzy at its close, and despite being the finale before the interval, it was somewhat jarring to move from the gentle overtures of Mozart and Handel to the vigorous assault of Dvořák. I overheard some fellow concert-goers after the event complaining that the pieces were almost too broad and ambitious to be placed all together, creating something of a challenge for the audience. To adjust to such a variety is indeed a heavy demand to make of your audience, but fortunately, the highlights of the concert: the opening Grieg, Mascagni’s Intermezzo from his great opera Cavalleria Rusticana and the encore of Clair de Lune shone through the noise as examples of the BSO at its very best.

– by Thomas Gordon-Colebrooke

*Images courtesy of





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