Symphonic Pictures from the BSO

Bizet            L’Arlesienne Suite
Ravel            Piano Concerto in G
Prokofiev        Autumnal Sketch
Mussorgsky (arr. Ravel)    Pictures at an Exhibition
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amyn Merchant

Kirill Karabits:  Conductor
Louis Schwizgebel:  Piano

It’s great to be back!  My last BSO review was posted in January 2020, so last night’s concert was an emotional event, marking the survival in the most trying of circumstances of our much-loved and irreplaceable Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Chief Conductor Kirill Karabits was back on the rostrum and there was eager anticipation for a programme designed to showcase the virtuosity of the whole orchestra.  The audience was back in force, with those still unable to attend a live event during the continuing pandemic with us on a live stream presented by Martin Handley.

Before the music started, Dougie Scarfe, the BSO’s Chief Executive, welcomed the audience back.  His rapturously-applauded speech gave thanks to all who had helped the BSO weather the storm: the BSO had kept playing through two world wars, and now global pandemic had been survived.  The atmosphere in the hall was palpably emotional, and the orchestra were not left in any doubt as to how happy and grateful we were to see them.

The programme was artfully constructed to showcase the orchestra’s talents, with every section taking its turn in the spotlight and many outstanding solo moments.  We started with Bizet’s appealing L’Arlesienne Suite, and right from the first bar, with a bold, immaculately together and tuned entry by the strings, we knew that the BSO was back and on top form.  The suite is colourful, accessible, and varied, and sounded wonderful on a much-bigger orchestra than it was written for, as incidental theatre music. A great choice for an opener.

We stayed in France for the second piece, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, which was premiered in 1932.  It’s a piece which aims at entertainment rather than profundity, and again provides great opportunities for orchestral soloists, such as trumpet, harp and cor anglaise.  Ravel was friendly with Gershwin, and jazzy rhythms and harmonies are prominent in the first and third movements. The soloist was the young Swiss pianist Louis Schitzgebel, who made light of the technical challenges to produce an exhilarating performance.

After the interval came Prokofiev’s Autumnal Sketch, an early work written when the composer was 19 and heavily under the influence of Rachmaninov.  It depicts an autumnal state of mind rather than the literal season, and there is a prominent role for the sombre and dark-hued bass clarinet.  Karabits has been championing this little-known work for some time, and it was well worth its place in the programme.

The finale was Ravel’s endlessly inventive orchestration of Mussorgsky’s piano piece, Pictures at an Exhibition.  Ravel expanded range of sounds available from a symphony orchestra, and the BSO revelled in the opportunity to show what they were capable of.  It was simply stunning, most stunning of all in the monumental pile of gorgeous sound which is the work’s last section, The Great Gate of Kiev.  It drew an instant standing ovation and was the best-possible start to what promises to be a great season at the Lighthouse.

What this concert emphatically demonstrated was that there is simply nothing to beat live orchestral music.  Listening at home has its place, but this is the real thing.  Book your tickets now: the BSO is back, and never in better form.

PJ