Debuts for a New Piano and a Ukrainian Rarity

Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1
Lyatoshinsky: Symphony No. 3

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
leader Amyn Merchant
Kirill Karabits conductor
Sunwook Kim piano

CONCERT-GOERS at Poole’s Light­house last night were greeted by the sight of a brand-new Steinway Model D grand piano centre stage wearing a fetching bright red bow which had been made by students at Bournemouth Arts University.  Amazingly, the £100,000-odd for the piano has been raised in just a year by subscription, and tonight’s concert marked its debut.

The soloist in Brahms’s monumental and symphonic 1st Piano Concerto was former artist-in-residence Sunwook Kim.  Kim had been entrusted by the BSO with the task of selecting the Steinway from the dozen instruments available, and happily his choice was the same as that of Steinway Master Technician Ulrich Gerhartz.

The concerto gave us ample opportunity to appreciate the instrument’s bright but rich and complex tone.  Kim made his name with this concerto when winning the Leeds international Piano competition twelve years ago at the age of 18, and his performance was full of confidence and love for the gripping and wide-ranging music, giving full rein to its lyrical, romantic side as well as its passion and drama.

A continuing thread of Kirill Karabits’s stewardship of the BSO has been his introduction to local audiences of music from his native Ukraine.  Although little-known in this country, Boris Lyatoshinsky (1895-1968) was a central figure in his country’s musical culture in the Soviet years, and Karabits’s mother is the leading expert on him.

A few years ago, the Lighthouse enjoyed a performance of his colourful tone poem Grazhyna (1955), so for some of us this wasn’t quite a plunge into the unknown. The Third Symphony, receiving its UK premier here, also dates from the 1950s.

The symphony is epic in scale, using a large orchestra and a 46-minute running time.  It is immediately accessible, with a structure that Beethoven would have recognised: four movements, with sonata-form outer movements framing a slow movement and a scherzo and trio.  In addition, much of its thematic material is derived from an idea heard loud and clear in different instrumentations in the slow introduction.
Like his near-contemporaries Prokofiev and Shostakovich, Lyatoshinsky suffered repeated interference from Soviet cultural commissars. He was obliged to re-write the last movement, which the authorities had adjudged unpatriotic and bourgeoise, but here we heard the original and much better version.

Hats off to the BSO players for a superbly-prepared and executed performance of a richly enjoyable and inexplicably neglected symphony.  It deserves wider hearings: sadly, there was no Radio 3 broadcast, but wouldn’t this go down well at the Proms!


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