Soul-stirring Bruckner from the BSO

Mozart Piano Concerto No 23 in A
Bruckner Symphony No. 8

Bournemouth Symphony Orches­tra, leader Amyn Merchant
Conductor Kirill Karabits
Piano Robert Levin

MUSIC certainly keeps you young!

I had a double-take when checking the biography of 70-year-old American pianist Robert Levin, who from his platform manner I had assumed to be a sprightly 50-something.  He is an academic and a musicologist as well as a performer, deeply versed in the music of the classical period.

In this performance of Mozart’s lovable Piano Concerto in A, he enthusiastically played along with the opening exposition when the piano is usually silent, and improvised accompaniments and embellishments throughout.

His rapport with Owain Bailey’s flute and Kevin Banks’s clarinet was signalled by body language and eye contact, and a fluent and easy sense of collaboration between soloist, conductor and the thirty-odd orchestral players was always there. A less scurrying tempo in the finale might have allowed Tammy Thorn’s bassoon to make a bigger impact, but this was a thoroughly satisfying performance and an ideal preparation for the apocalyptic wonders to come after the interval.

Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony is the crowning achievement of the composer’s lifetime, huge in scale and ambition, transcendent and monumental.  Kirill Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra delivered a performance which gripped and inspired from start to finish, and which will stay with me for a long time.

The extended orchestra comprised 95 musicians, of whom 54 were permanent salaried BSO players and 41 booked just for this concert. Despite this, it was the quality and unanimity of the orchestral playing that constantly impressed, with the massed ranks singing with one clear voice under Karabits’s unshowy and expert direction.

Karabits placed the second violins to his right, with basses and cellos to his left, an arrangement of which he seems increasingly fond.  Trombones and tuba were placed high in the centre for maximum volume and effect, with timpani and harp on the right.  The string tone was lustrous and strong, and every section covered itself in glory.

The long slow movement was a rapt meditation in which expertly-modulated dynamics ensured clarity and tension. The splendidly truculent swagger of the trombones at the start of the final movement led to the blazingly affirmative conclusion, reminiscent of the gods entering Valhalla in Wagner’s Das Rheingold.

As if they hadn’t been working hard enough for the previous hour, the trumpets, trombones and tuba then gave us a sonorous encore.  Thank you, and bravo!

A word of congratulation also to the audience.  Bruckner’s Eight achieves some of its most memorable moments by sudden silences, and not one of them was spoiled by coughing!


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