Bruckner’s ‘Romantic’ Symphony with the BSO

helsethHaydn: Trumpet Concerto
Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 ‘Romantic’

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amin Merchant
Kirill Karabits: Conductor
Tine Thing Helseth: Trumpet

‘ROMANTIC’ is a complicated word, and Bruckner’s use of it to describe his glorious fourth symphony has nothing to do with hearts and flowers and St Valentine’s Day.  It is medieval romance that he evokes, a kind of mythological world of knights and chivalry, the realm of Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’ and ‘Tannhäuser’.  And yet this is all a bit of a distraction from what is at root a grand and noble symphony that works as pure abstract sound.

Karabits has already given us magnificently paced and structured performances of Bruckner’s seventh and ninth symphonies in recent years, so this was truly a concert to relish.  He set an unhurried tempo for the symphony’s atmospheric opening, with Nicolas Fleury, last week’s soloist, prominent in the solo horn part.  The music unfolded in a hypnotic way.  We had time to appreciate the detail of the BSO’s rich and lustrously-textured playing in the extended string sections, anchored by eight double basses under the ever-reliable David Daly, and the magnificently sonorous playing of the fourteen brass players ranged across the back of the orchestra.

Karabits had placed the second violins on the right of the platform with the lower strings on the left, providing balance by creating the maximum distance between string basses and trombones and tuba and emphasising the antiphonal contrasts in the violin parts.

Listening to a Bruckner symphony is an unusually immersive experience. The final movement’s slow and repeated rhythm of hushed passages for muted strings and woodwind building slowly and seemingly-organically to glorious brass-topped climaxes had me thinking of wide landscapes of mountain ridges and the slow and inexorable motion of planets.  Karabits was a reliable guide through these awe-inspiring landscapes, and the applause when we finally came to the end of our journey was long and loud.

Before the interval we were given a performance of Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto by the 29-year-old Norwegian Tine Thing Helseth.  Any trumpet soloist must play this popular piece regularly, but there was nothing routine about this performance.  Helseth drew a range of tones and moods from her instrument that encompassed the martial and the lyrical and all stops between.  The first movement cadenza was an unfettered exploration of Haydn’s thematic material that made me want to applaud mid-movement, as you would a Miles Davis jazz solo.


Posted in Reviews on .