Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amyn Merchant
Kees Bakels: Conductor
Valeriy Sokolov: Violin
HAVING glutted on Strauss waltzes over the New Year, this concert saw the BSO returning to their usual business of providing reliably polished and stimulating performances of the classical repertoire. It was good to welcome Kees Bakels back. The Dutchman is a long-standing guest conductor whose concerts are always fresh and engaging.
Liadov’s Kikimora is a brief but enjoyable tone poem. The rather indolent nineteenth-century Russian has a tiny output, with no large-scale works at all. This beautifully-orchestrated and played miniature left one wanting more, and wishing that Liadov had had the energy to write a symphony or a concerto.
The highlight of the concert was the concerto. Valeriy Sokolov, a 29-year-old Ukranian, is an exceptional player of astonishing power and assurance. He delivered an overwhelmingly intense performance of Shostakovich’s tragic masterpiece, now taking its place as one of the cornerstones of the repertoire. Bakels’ accompaniment, featuring the dark-hued tones of the tuba, bass clarinet and contra-bassoon, provided an admirable framing.
Bakels’ interpretation of the most familiar opening in all classical openings was startling: he ignored Beethoven’s pause in the second bar, the second ‘da-da-da-dahhh’ following hard on the heels of the first. Fate didn’t so much hammer on the door, as ring the door bell and run away. All the portentousness sometimes associated with the symphony evaporated, and a lithe, athletic, energetic performance followed. There was no lingering in the second movement, and some very exciting passages in the trio section of the third, with the strings holding together at a break-neck tempo. Beethoven keeps the trombones up his sleeve until the last movement, and Bakels underlined this by getting the three players to leap to their feet to deliver their dramatic entry. This possibly laboured the point: the symphony does not suddenly become a concerto for three trombones, after all.