Beauty and Death with the BSO

Conductor Kirill Karabits, Olga Myktenko (soprano), Alexander Vassilev (bass)

Mozart: Serenade No. 10 for 13 Winds, K.361; Shostakovich: Symphony No. 14

THE BSO’s second Lighthouse concert of the season, subtitled Beauty and Death, saw the eagerly-anticipated return of Kirill Karabits to the podium in a programme of striking contrasts. The 36-year-old Ukrainian is now in his fifth season as principal conductor. In May he was chosen as conductor of the year at the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards. The citation spoke of a “musician whose charisma, imagination, scholarly intelligence and vivid communication have touched audiences wherever he performs.” It also mentioned his “determination to explore and to excel” and this concert was certainly a bold and innovative piece of programming, taking the Lighthouse audience excitingly beyond the usual familiar classical repertoire.

The concert began with one of Mozart’s longest instrumental works, sometimes known as the Gran Partita. It is scored for two oboes, two clarinets, two basset horns, two bassoons, a contra bassoon and four horns. The BSO’s wind section revelled in the opportunity to take centre stage rather than remaining buried behind the strings, with sensitive contributions from two long-serving principals Edward Kay (oboe) and Kevin Banks (clarinet). The blending of the different timbres of the wind instruments in ever-changing combinations was captivating and fascinating.

The second half of the concert formed a sharp contrast to the first. Instead of wind instruments, we had strings, percussion and voices. Instead of the 18th century, we were pitched into the 20th. Instead of the serenade’s variety and entertainment, we had an unremitting and concentrated meditation on the theme of death.

Shostakovich wrote his 14th Symphony in 1969 when, in his 60s, a heart condition had alerted him to the fact that his days were numbered. The symphony is in the form of a song cycle for soprano, bass, a small string orchestra and ten percussion instruments. It was dedicated to Benjamin Britten, and this performance formed part of the BSO’s celebration of the composer’s centenary. The texts to the songs are Russian translations of 11 poems by the Frenchman Apollinaire, the Spaniard Lorca, the German Rilke and the Russian Kochelbecker. All the texts touch on death, and the piece has a cumulative power and intensity that was fully realised in a devastatingly moving performance. Although the Lighthouse was barely two-thirds full, the audience responded with rapt attention and long and heartfelt applause. The BSO and Karabits are to be warmly congratulated for such bold and imaginative programming and such superb performances.



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