Scheherazade at The Lighthouse

Debussy: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Lalo: Symphonie espagnole
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amyn Merchant
James Gaffigan: Conductor
Alexandra Soumm: Violin

I ONCE asked a member of the BSO if he ever got bored with playing the familiar mainstream pieces of the classical repertoire – pieces like Rimsky-Korsakov’s much-loved suite ‘Scheherazade’.  “What you’ve always got to remember”, he said, “is that for some members of the audience, this will be the first time they’ve ever heard it.”

That was the position my son, who accompanied me to this concert, was in.  He is coming to classical music in his twenties, having had no time at all for it in his teens.  He has loved hearing Bruckner symphonies, and was greatly taken by Nemanja Radulovic’s excitingly theatrical performances in the Khachaturian and Barber violin concertos, but this was his first concert featuring a piece with a strong extra-musical narrative.

He enjoyed relating the memorable themes to the characters and events of the Arabian Nights, and the BSO and conductor James Gaffigan gave a performance that was as fresh and dramatic as one could wish for.  Gaffigan set a lovely relaxed tempo in the first movement, perfectly catching the surge and swell of Sinbad’s ship, and Amyn Merchant’s solo violin gave an idiomatic and characterful personification of Scheherazade herself.  Solo work from the section leaders was consistently impressive in this richly orchestrated score, at times almost a concerto for orchestra.  Tammy Thorne’s bassoon and guest clarinettist Liz Drew caught the ear particularly.  My son and I were still happily whistling the themes in the car on the way home.

All this followed an almost-equally rich and tuneful first half.  The concert started with Debussy’s ‘Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune’, in which Anna Pyne gave a sensitive and melting account of the solo flute line while the rest of the orchestra blended the impressionist palette of sounds behind her.  Then we welcomed the young French violinist Alexandra Soumm in Lalo’s ‘Symphonie espagnole’.  This is a violin concerto in all but name, its five movements evoking the atmosphere and dance rhythms of Spain.  From the fiery and assertive opening through the beautiful song-like fourth movement, Soumm gave a strong and characterful performance, coping with the incredible cascade of notes in the finale with ease.
If you missed this concert, it’s not too late to hear it on BBC iPlayer:

And now a suggestion: if you came to this concert and enjoyed it, or if you just read the review and think you would have enjoyed it, put this date in your diary: Wednesday 4th October.  Book up to hear the BSO play Messiaen’s incredibly original and inventive Turrangalîla Symphony, conducted by Chief Conductor Kirill Karabits.   Using a huge orchestra with a battery of percussionists, a solo piano and the rarely-heard eerie wavering tones of the Ondes Martinot, this symphony, written in the 1940s, explores the multiple meanings of love.  Programming it is a brave and confident move by an orchestra setting new standards of excellence, and it deserves to be a sell-out.

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