Iron and Romance, BSO at Poole Lighthouse

PROKOFIEV: Symphony No 2
KORNGOLD: Violin Concerto
TCHAIKOVSKY: Fantasy Overture: Romeo and Juliet

AT first glance, the programme for this concert looked as if it would attract only die-hard regulars: the least-played and least-popular revs Benedetti-symphony of Prokofiev, a concerto by a marginal and obscure twentieth-century composer and a possibly rather hackneyed and overplayed piece by Tchaikovsky. And it was all back to front: surely it goes overture, concerto, symphony, not symphony, concerto, overture? In the event, the concert was a complete triumph, a programme of dramatic contrasts and fascinating music played to an enthusiastic sell-out audience. What had packed them in was possibly the star quality and drawing power of violinist Nicola Benedetti, but those who came just to hear her play live the piece featured on her best-selling CD ‘The Silver Violin’ got a lot more for their money.

Karabits started the concert with a speech playfully warning the audience of the ‘roller coaster ride’ to come in the shape of Prokofiev’s 2nd Symphony. Written in Russia in1925 in the heady, optimistic atmosphere of post-revolutionary industrialisation, the symphony is a work of ‘iron and steel’, with first movement especially being an unrelenting onslaught of fff dissonances and driving rhythms. While not being the sort of thing you’d want to relax to with a cup of tea at home, it was intensely exciting in live performance, with the grim concentration on the faces of the players adding to the atmosphere of drama. Karabits had talked of Prokofiev’s penchant for shocking the bourgeoisie – he apparently once cheekily turned up for a very formal music exam in St Petersburg in vivid red socks and an equally vivid green tie. By their enthusiastic applause, the bourgeoisie in the audience seemed to have completely forgiven him.

After the interval the mood was very different. From revolutionary Leningrad we were whisked to 1940s Hollywood, from iron and steel to luscious melody and romance. Korngold’s Violin Concerto, once neglected but now finding a more regular place in the repertoire, contains material written first for such 1930s Hollywood movies as Another Dawn, Anthony Adverse and The Prince and the Pauper. Nicola Benedetti, the charismatic 26-year-old Scottish soloist, coaxed gorgeously sweet sounds from her Stradivarius and rewarded her adoring audience with some clear and pure solo Bach as an encore.

After that, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet could have been a mere filler, but Karabits’s evident enthusiasm for the passionate music ensured that the BSO remained in splendidly concentrated form to the last note. A triumph, then: and the order was absolutely right!

Paul Jordan

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