Review: BSO’s Smooth Classics Vol. 2

On Wednesday, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra brought to Exeter a different form of concert to the standard set-up. As the conductor, Marta Gardolińska, explained to me in my pre-concert interview for RAZZ, it was a night designed to attract those less familiar with classical music with a variety of musical delights. Rather than one or two shorter pieces, an interval, and then a symphony (as is typically done in contemporary concerts), the evening consisted of a tremendous sequence of pieces by a whole range of composers. The title of the evening was ‘Smooth Classics, Vol. 2’ with pieces chosen for their relaxing temperament. This being said, there was a multitude of emotions amongst the pieces of music, which the BSO asserted clearly in their performance.

Before the performance began, the audience was informed that the truck transporting the instruments had been in an accident, although no-one was hurt, and no instruments damaged. Ms Gardolińska had informally mentioned this to me earlier, and how it meant they were without time for a final rehearsal; she had, however, been totally assured of the orchestra’s ability to work under this pressure. And with good reason. Following a slightly belated start, and with a minorly tweaked running order, the orchestra leapt impressively into Bizet’s Intermezzo from Carmen. Bringing this serene extract to the Great Hall stage, Marta Gardolińska led a beautiful and, indeed, soothing rendition of one of the few pieces of the opera not entirely seething with dramatic Sevillian passion.

Following this, Anna Fedorova was welcomed to the stage for the first piano piece of the night. She was met, as suits her world-renown as a musician, with rapturous applause. Her rendering of the second movement of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No.2 was genuinely enthralling. She worked seamlessly with the orchestra, drawing out the intense sadness of the piece to a point of absolute profundity. This piece was written as an expressive gift for the composer’s son, Maxim. Fedorova and the BSO’s rendition of it created an atmosphere of quiet awe that extended over the following hour. Something of the sadder tone was relieved, however, in the first half, by Erik Satie’s delightful Gymnopédie No.1, with which the orchestra managed to capture the individuality and eccentricity of the French composer perfectly.

Fedorova was once again applauded to her stool for the second movement of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2. This was played with a wonderful sense of accessibility, an especial achievement for a piece in which the piano and strings offer an intellectually complex layering to the central theme. After this came Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte, of which the composer once said (perhaps fortunately in this instance) that the title had nothing to do with the piece. Perhaps the most relaxing of all the pieces of the evening, the orchestra exemplified the smoothness with the subtlety of their performance.

Having remained largely at the turn of the 20th century, the orchestra went back to ‘basics’ at this point with the Adagio from Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto. I must admit I found it strange to hear the piece so divorced from the grandiosity of the first movement, but this allowed an insight into just how complex a piece of art it is. The BSO brought a certain hymn-like quality to the melody, before the piano, and then the flute, bassoon and clarinet together took their turns with the aria form, which seemed to me to challenge the hypermasculine heroism so readily associated with the music.

Following a rousing rendition of Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves, with which the BSO admirably demonstrated that even with such a smooth melody, it is a piece sure to stir any English concert hall audience to excitement, the orchestra came to the finale of the night. The second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth was quickly brought to its powerful central theme, with Ben Hulme’s masterful horn solo leading the charge. The momentum introduced was unfaltering, and the entire orchestra worked seamlessly to bring the piece to its two climactic Fate motifs, offering a superb demonstration of the Russian composer’s genius. It was an incredibly impressive ending to an evening of remarkable talent, with new conductor Marta Gardolińska emphasising her capabilities. Those new to a concert hall will be sure to return. The BSO once again delivered a performance, albeit with a difference, well worth their international stature as a spectacular ensemble.

-Ben Britton

Photo Credits: Eric Richmond

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