Tales from Russia with the BSO

Borodin        In the Steppes of Central Asia
Rachmaninov    Piano Concerto No 2
Rimsky-Korsakov    Symphonic Suite / Symphony No 2 ‘Antar’
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amyn Merchant

Kirill Karabits:  Conductor     Alexander Malofeev  Piano

THIS was my second sampling of the BSO’s admirable streaming service, on which you are able to watch concerts live at home via the internet.

The BSO has, in characteristic fashion, tackled this with terrific professionalism. The concert is shot with multiple cameras and expertly produced so that just the right close up of individual orchestral players pop up at precisely the right moment. Players with prominent solo passages, such as the principles in all the woodwind sections, really have a chance to register as individuals, and you see less of the conductor than would be usual if you were actually there. The whole thing was topped and tailed by presenter Tom Service, who is able to combine the insights of an expert with the almost boyish, radiant enthusiasm of an audience member who is simply blown away by the miraculous power of this music.

‘Tales from Russia’ was the label given to this concert, and the sense of narrative and illustration was there strongly in two of the three pieces played. Borodin’s tone poem In the Steppes of Central Asia, which illustrates a trading caravan steadily crossing a vast landscape, was given a lovingly warm and detailed performance, with Holly Randall’s cor anglais prominent.

The 20-year-old Russian piano prodigy Alexander Malofeev then took the stage for a performance of Rachmaninov’s ever-popular 2nd Piano Concerto. He and Karabits adopted slowish tempi throughout, which gave the music enormous power and emotional heft, and threw into relief the faster passages in which Malofeev demonstrated an admirable combination of seemingly-effortless virtuosity with close concentration on the structure of the musical argument – there was no flashiness or showmanship in this performance. Malofeev clearly loves making music, and he treated us to two encores, illustrative of his range as a pianist

After the interval we heard a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s unjustly neglected symphonic suite Antar. This started life labelled as the composer’s second symphony, but in the course of revisions, Rimsky decided that it had none of the development of musical themes and ideas associated with a symphony, and that the music was purely illustrative of its subject, which is episodes from the life and legend of the pre-Islamic poet/warrior Antarah ibn Shaddād. Like Rimsky’s much better-known later piece, Scheherazade, the music is suffused with romantic orientalism, and the allure of the mythical east. The orchestration is constantly fascinating and ever-changing, and it drew out some wonderful individual playing from the orchestra combined with Karabits’s firm grasp of the music’s story-line. As a bonus Karabits and the orchestra treated us to a startlingly busy performance of Rimsky’s The Flight of the Bumblebee, so the audience left the hall (or in my case turned off his laptop) with a smile on their lips.

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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