Rachmaninov Piano Concert No. 2
Mahler Symphony No. 1 ‘Titan’
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amyn Merchant
James Feddeck: Conductor
Vadym Kholodenko: Piano
FIRST impressions: what were we talking about on the way home from last night’s sell-out BSO concert at the Lighthouse in Poole? It was the power of live music. If you dabble in Classic FM or Radio 3, and quite like what you’ve heard, take my word for it: you ain’t heard nothin’ yet!
My companion and I had both learned to love Mahler’s music from LPs back in the day, but to hear this startlingly original music live, we agreed, was an experience of an entirely different order. The BSO, under a stand-in conductor, the young American James Feddeck, were in resplendent form. The strings provided a reliably lustrous sound, the woodwind rose to the challenges of their often very exposed solo lines and the brass were secure and powerful in their big moments. And we mustn’t forget the percussion, used with great variety and subtlety by Mahler rather than simply as a source of big bashes.
Feddeck was standing in for the indisposed Ion Marin, who over the last few years has directed a string of satisfying Mahler performances at the Lighthouse, starting in 2016 when he himself was a stand-in for an indisposed conductor in a blistering performance of Mahler’s tragic 6th Symphony. Feddeck is no stranger to the orchestra, and his reading of the symphony was delivered with clarity and authority, avoiding idiosyncrasy and letting us concentrate on the composer.
In this symphony the youthful Mahler surely produced one of the most original and revolutionary first symphonies of all, incorporating natural sounds such as birdsong and the music of the folk dance and the military band. All this sounds like post-modernism, but amazingly we’re still in 1889. Feddeck and the BSO found a coherent approach where all these disparate elements fitted comfortably into classical musical structures.
Before the interval the BSO had given us the first half of this generous double-header of a concert, Rachmaninov’s ever-popular 2nd Piano Concerto. In this they were joined by the young Ukrainian pianist Vadym Kholodenko. The performance was an exemplary demonstration of Rachmaninov’s ability to use the piano as a partner with the orchestra rather than as a star vehicle for a flashy, combative soloist. The opening of the second movement, where the theme is given to a succession of woodwind soloists accompanied by a meditative piano, stands out in my memory as a particular highlight.
So to return to my opening: if you’re reading this and haven’t heard a live symphony orchestra lately, take the plunge. You will not be disappointed!