Schubert’s Great

Dove        Sunshine
Mozart    Piano Concerto No. 22
Schubert    Symphony No. 9 ‘The Great’

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amyn Merchant
Mark Wigglesworth, conductor, Imogen Cooper, piano

CURRENT tragic events in Ukraine are impossible to ignore, especially for an orchestra whose chief conductor for the last 13 years is the Ukrainian Kirill Karabits.

Kirill was not conducting this concert: he is safe, and currently working in Paris. He had sent a message which chief executive Dougie Scarfe read out, in front of a back wall at the Lighthouse illuminated in the Ukrainian national colours of yellow and blue. Kirill’s moving message thanked us for all the messages of support he had received from BSO audience members and reiterated the simple and unanswerable demand that Ukraine be left alone to develop in peace and prosperity rather than invaded, terrorised and annexed.

We warmed up with an immensely appealing five-minute 2016 orchestral piece by Jonathan Dove.  Entitled Sunshine, it winningly contrasts skipping, dance- like material with longer-winded sustained singing notes, with the material passed around and developed by each orchestral group in turn, so everyone has a turn in the limelight.  It was delightful and winning at a first hearing, the perfect amuse bouche for the ears.

Next up was the Mozart concerto, one of the miraculous dozen he wrote between 1784 and 1786.  This one, in E flat, includes clarinets, trumpets and drums and omits oboes, creating a rich and warm sonic environment for the solo piano.  The soloist was Imogen Cooper, an extremely eminent and honoured pianist now in her 70s.  Straight-backed, serious and stately, Cooper undramatically produced a beautifully smooth and mellifluous tone from the Steinway piano, using the percussive side of the instrument extremely sparingly.  For me, the highlight was the slow movement, when the turn-taking and sharing of the material between the soloist and the woodwind section was spellbinding.

The concert finished with principal guest conductor’s Mark Wigglesworth’s reading of the “Great” C major symphony of Schubert. The symphony, written only a couple of years after the composer heard Beethoven’s ground-breaking Ninth Symphony, is similarly ambitious in style and scope. It has often been called spacious and expansive, but Wigglesworth was more interested in the urgency and drama of the music.  His tempi were fast, sometimes breathtakingly so, and the orchestra did well to keep up with his demands for accuracy and variety of tone and dynamics  at a gallop.  I was left uplifted, exhilarated and excited, but also with the feeling that this isn’t the only way to approach this masterpiece and sometimes I would like to luxuriate more in what Schumann called its ‘heavenly length’.

The concert is available on the BSOlive website, and if you haven’t yet sampled this platform I would recommend it warmly. Just google “BSOlive”.


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