Review: BSO’s Pastoral Brahms

Having climbed the snowy slope to campus, the brassy warmth of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s presence in the Great Hall was sure to revive the spirits of all who made it there. As were the evening’s three pieces, under the heading of ‘Pastoral Brahms’. Clemens Schuldt was conducting, his second evening with the BSO following his debut the night before. His familiarity with the German Romantic canon was well-suited to the work, with which he displayed a near-frantic excitement throughout.

The first piece of the night was Schumann’s Manfred Overture, part of his musical accompaniment to Byron’s drama ‘Manfred’. The BSO succeeded in capturing the sublimity of this ever-popular piece. Asserting the strength of the work from early on, Schuldt led the orchestra with admirable restraint, rightly recognising when to withdraw from the potentially bombastic, and pursue a subtler, more Byronic sound. This suits the work within its original context, in which Schumann, like his close friend Brahms, was writing Romantic music under the intimidating pall of Beethoven’s influence. The Manfred Overture marked a divergence from the aesthetics of the German composer to those closer to the English tragicomic poet’s. The BSO mastered the unorthodox syncopated rhythm in order to produce a wonderful rendition of the piece, with an especial contribution made by Chris Avison’s trumpet section, which was key in exercising the necessary moderation.

Perhaps the most obvious link between the three pieces of the night was Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim, who was acquainted with all three of the evening’s composers (introducing Schumann and Brahms), and to whom the second piece, Dvorak’s Violin Concerto, was dedicated. The orchestra diminishing to a chamber accompaniment at this point, the soloist Baiba Skride came onto the stage, and leapt vigorously into the piece. Working with the orchestra, she embraced the elation of the music, especially in the Finale (Allegro), which was brought to monarchic proportions by the ensemble, drawing out the humour of the music to the point of ultimate ambiguity – this ambiguity largely emanating from the question as to whether the humour of this conclusion can be seen to be in praise, or at the expense, of the Czech nobility. This lent the piece a rather modern quality, as if it could have been written in the same country in the 1960s, rather than the 1870s. It was also intriguing to observe Skride when she wasn’t playing, instead interacting with her instrument (an inevitably ancient Stradivarius), repeatedly plucking it inaudibly by her ear to ensure it remained in tune. It was a gratifying reminder of the down-to-earth anxieties involved in making classical music, which can at times come across as headily academic.

The final piece of the night was Brahms’s Symphony No.2. As with the Schumann, this piece marks a recognisably conscious effort to relinquish itself from the bonds of Beethoven. Whilst this is equally noticeable in the composer’s First Symphony, here he succeeds in a manner unfettered by the repressed anxieties that can be heard in that piece. As the BSO demonstrated admirably, those anxieties are replaced in his second by a liberated joy, that the orchestra sustained all the way to the audibly complex finale. It was, perhaps, at times difficult to grasp Schuldt’s control of the piece, whose erratic movement was marvellous to watch, yet seemed occasionally to be disconnected from the music, which continued to dance forward at its own natural pace. This being said, the orchestra produced a solid rendering of this transitional and atypical piece by Brahms, and with its sunny pastorality offered an alternative to the (albeit pretty) gloom of outdoors.

-Ben Britton


Photo Credits: Eric Richmond

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