BSO Accepts Standing Order from Karabits

revs karabits3Bach: Suite No. 3 in D major
Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings
Mozart: Symphony no 39 in E flat

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amin Merchant
Kirill Karabits: Conductor
Robert Murray: Tenor
Nicholas Fleury: Horn

THE players of the BSO certainly deserved a good sit down after this inspiring and energising concert. What had looked like a routine saunter through three well-loved and familiar classic repertoire items turned out to be an excitingly played and presented journey, with Chief Conductor Kirill Karabits firmly in the lead throughout.

In all three pieces Karabits used a chamber-sized string section of 24 players. The first and second violins were divided left and right, and the violin and viola players stood throughout, as did the woodwind players. This brought unity to a disparate programme. Karabits’s interpretations of the Bach and Mozart were brisk, energetic and affectionate, with a contrasting serenity in the Britten.

For a number of years BSO programmes have been telling us that Karabits has been working on a doctorate on music from the baroque era, and he has of course brought us memorable performances of works such as C. P. E. Bach’s ‘Johannes Passion’. This performance of the Third Suite by C. P. E.’s father, the great J. S., had an intoxicating swagger to it. The antiphonal effects of the divided strings and the pared-down orchestration (just two oboes, three trumpets and timpani with the strings) made Bach’s musical argument clear and richly satisfying.

Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings was composed in 1943. A song cycle using texts with nocturnal themes by poets including Tennyson, Blake and Keats, it was written for specific performers: Britten’s long-term partner the tenor Peter Pears and the twenty-one year old horn virtuoso Dennis Brain. Here, the two dozen string players were joined by soloists Robert Murray (tenor) and the BSO’s own principal horn player Nicholas Fleury. Most of the audience will have got to know the work through Pears’s recordings, which I am finding more mannered and idiosyncratic as time passes. Murray’s sensitive and unaffected singing was a tonic, as was Fleury’s dazzling control of tone and dynamics on the horn. In an imaginative piece of stage management, the final offstage solo horn passage was played as the lights were dimmed to darkness.

After the interval the still-standing strings were joined in Mozart’s 39th Symphony by a wind section shorn of the usual oboes. In this piece the orchestral colours Mozart paints with are warmer and less astringent than usual. Clarinetists Kevin Banks and Christine Roberts were frequently to the fore. Karabits deployed his usual fast tempi and elicited a performance which sounded fresh and alert, as if the newly-written parts had been delivered from Vienna about a fortnight ago.


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