BSO at Poole Lighthouse

karabits2Sibelius: The Tempest Suite
Grieg: Piano Concerto
Sibelius: Symphony No. 7
Sibelius: Tapiola

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amyn Merchant
Kirill Karabits: Conductor
Juho Pohjonen: Piano

GETTING the balance right between the crowd-pulling ‘warhorses’ of the classical repertoire and equally-rewarding but less familiar music must be a constant preoccupation for the BSO’s management. Revenue must be obtained from ticket sales, but artistic integrity must also be maintained to provide grant income. And through it all, musical standards must be kept high.

The BSO are usually highly successful in squaring this circle, but I did ask myself what the ‘warhorse’ Grieg Piano Concerto was doing in this wonderfully-stimulating survey of Sibelius’s last works before his lengthy retirement from the mid-1920’s until his death in 1957. It was certainly written by a fellow-Scandinavian, and was played by a fellow-Finn, but it is from an entirely different musical universe, solidly rooted in mid-nineteenth-century romanticism. Surely the programme could have been completed by something by Carl Nielsen, whose 150th birthday, ignored by the BSO, has been equally celebrated with that of Sibelius elsewhere? Nielsen’s Flute Concerto (1926) or Clarinet Concerto (1928) are terrific works from the same decade as the rest of the programme, and for soloists would we need to have looked beyond star section leaders Anna Pyne and Kevin Banks?

Anyway, it is probably impractical to expect either the conductor or the orchestra to cope with so much unfamiliar music in a single concert. And in the event, the well-known Grieg Concerto was an enjoyable respite from Sibelius’s at times uncompromising severity. The slight young Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen gave a colourful, clear and entirely winning performance of this lyrical and accessible score which was received with huge enthusiasm by a sell-out Lighthouse audience.

The three Sibelius pieces, all from the mid 1920s, see the composer at the end of his journey away from the Tchaikovskian romanticism of Finlandia and the first two symphonies towards a much more terse, transparent and individual sound. The ‘Tempest’ pieces were drawn from the thirty-four Sibelius wrote as incidental music for a performance of Shakespeare’s play. Just as the magus Prospero renounces his magical art, so Sibelius was about to retire from his musical art. The three brief pieces played covered a large range of moods, from graceful,other-worldly music for harp, strings and clarinet representing Ariel to savagely violent sounds representing the storm, when the sea itself seemed to be overwhelming the Lighthouse.

Karabits reversed the order of the last two pieces, taking the one-movement Seventh Symphony before the brooding tone poem ‘Tapiola’. In both pieces Karabits kept a forward-driving pulse, so that ‘Tapiola’ did not stagnate in Nordic gloom as is sometimes the case, and the symphony cohered rather than fragmented. In both pieces, the trombones rose to their big moments with their usual power and finesse, and the viola section caught the ear in some beautifully-played prominent passages.


Posted in Reviews on .