Pranks and Penitence at the Poole Lighthouse

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amyn Merchant

Conductor: Yan Pascal Tortelier

Augustin Hadelich, Violin

R Strauss
Till Eulenspiegel

Mathis der Maler Symphony

Violin Concerto

‘Pranks and Penitence’ was the somewhat puzzling label that BSO’s marketing department put on this diverse programme. The pranks were clearly in the first piece, but neither of the others deals particularly with penitence. ‘Three works by Germans’ is at least true, if not especially riveting!

The Lighthouse welcomed back the popular and charismatic guest conductor, the 66-year old Frenchman Yan Pascal Tortelier, who is the father of Maxim, the BSO’s Young Conductor in Association. Always intense and energetic, the batonless Tortelier leaps and bounds, probably spending more time airborn than any other BSO conductor. In this concert he drew superbly engaged and coherent performances of all three works from the orchestra.

We started with the ‘pranks’. Strauss’s 1895 tone poem Till Eulenspiegel is a musical portrait of the legendary German folk hero, and a series of his adventures, ending in his death. Recourse to the programme notes kept one abreast of the action, but the piece really needs no programme because of the wonderfully rich and varied palette of orchestral colours deployed by the ever-inventive composer.

Next came a rarity: the Mathis der Maler Symphony. Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) has been described as the twentieth century’s most unjustly neglected composer: the lady sitting next to me had never heard of him! The performance marked the 50th anniversary of the composer’s death, but the BSO are alone among British orchestras in even noticing. The symphony, based on music from the composer’s opera about the medieval painter Matthias Grünewald, is a powerful and immediately appealing three-movement piece, balancing lyrical moments with forward-driving rhythms. The audience loved it: I hope the BSO will consider programming more works by Hindemith.

Finally, the concert’s undoubted climax, the sublime Violin Concert by Beethoven. The soloist, 29-year-old Augustin Haderlich, drew ravishingly delicate sounds from his Stradivarius, and a mesmeric, meditative atmosphere was created, with soloist and orchestra perfectly attuned under Tortelier’s watchful direction. Haderlich diffused the tension by treating us to a playful encore, Paganini’s Caprice no. 9.

The concert had started with a presentation to the violist Philip Borg-Wheeler, who is stepping down after 36 years and over four thousand concerts in the BSO’s ‘engine room’. He is also well-known as a writer of notes for the BSO’s excellent programmes and a deliverer of pre-concert talks. He was given a rousing ovation by the audience and we wish him a happy retirement.




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