Review: BSO’s ‘Unmistakeable Voices’

Friday’s concert, ‘Unmistakeable Voices’, saw Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra give two magnificent performances, in a clear demonstration of the capabilities of everyone involved. From Beethoven to Shostakovich, and with an intervening encore on the part of violin soloist Augustin Hadelich, the evening proved not only to be expertly played, but decidedly engaging in its informality. It was perhaps Hadelich himself who, from first walking on to the stage in Exeter University’s Great Hall, seemed to emanate a casualness to be appreciated by any audience of classical music, and which perfectly aligned with the general accessibility of the BSO’s work.

Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major readily emphasised this trait of Hadelich, with the violin solo part at times moving from the jovial to the comic. With its extensive use of simple scales, the work was made seemingly simple, and certainly Hadelich made it appear so, handling the complex formal constructions deftly and with apparent ease. It was a delight to watch him work, Stradivarius tucked beneath his chin and neck lifted high, as he attacked each refrain with a light-hearted rapidity. Conductor Kirill Karabits presented a similarly enlivening spirit of performance, negotiating the orchestra superbly with the solo, and giving invigorating movements at each re-entrance of the ensemble.

Following this impressive display of skill on behalf of the orchestra, there were cheers and demands for an encore from Hadelich, to which he obliged. While his demeanour was one of total humility, the piece he chose was the intimidatingly complex Caprice 24 by virtuoso violinist Paganini, whose work revolutionised techniques for playing the instrument, which serve to this day. Hadelich’s use of these techniques was, put simply, inspired, and the audience was made to realise the true ability of this world-famous performer. The movement of his fingers alone, never mind the sound that they produced (and perhaps this was Paganini’s greatest talent as a composer: music that demonstrates physical skill) was dizzyingly fast – for one section the strings were plucked at a pace I hadn’t thought possible.

Following an interval, which was much-needed by the audience in order to recover from the brilliance of what they had witnessed, we returned to our seats for Shostakovich’s Symphony No.1. One of the most distinctive first symphonies ever written, it is a piece that not only shows the composer’s individual genius (developed when he was only a student) but represents its historic moment with equal vivacity. Post-revolutionary Russia was suffering from a mass emigration of many of its great artists to the West, yet Shostakovich’s symphony created a musical voice which demonstrated the intellectual ideals of Soviet society. At the same time, the piece demonstrates a juxtaposition of the Romantic influences on Shostakovich with elements of radical Futurism, a movement which Shostakovich hovered on the fringes of in pre-Stalinist Russia. This was well executed in the piece by the percussion, led by Matt King, who aggressively interrupted Amyn Merchant’s string section on each of its Romantic crescendos. The orchestra accentuated the very modernity of the piece, even by its organisation (the piano crammed to one corner), and by the staccato stops and starts, making it stand out as a pioneering 20th century achievement.

The nervousness of the piece also came across in the BSO’s playing and was evident in the now angular and exaggerated movements of Karabits. It is, as a piece, riddled with the twitchiness of its composer (even when written well before a time at which Shostakovich was having to alter his Symphony No.4 to avoid being murdered on Stalin’s orders) – it could perhaps be the soundtrack to a minor anxiety attack. All of this was captured exceptionally well by the orchestra, which once again proved its worth as one of the best ensembles in the country. Their wide repertoire and engaging atmosphere should not be missed, by the classically inclined or otherwise.

Ben Britton

Photo Credits: Eric Richmond

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