Bournemouth SO’s Dynamic Rachmaninov Second Symphony

17/03/2017

Beethoven, Rachmaninov: Saleem Ashkar (piano), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Antonio Méndez (conductor), Lighthouse, Poole, 15.3.2017. (IL)

Beethoven – Overture: Leonore No. 1, Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat Major
Rachmaninov – Symphony No. 2 in E minor

Rachmaninov’s supremely melodic and exhilarating Symphony No. 2 is now as firmly established in the concert-going public’s esteem as the composer’s Second and Third Piano Concertos. This was a dynamic performance, judging by the audience’s great roar of approval at the end of the BSO’s performance. Méndez, a most animated conductor, drew a reading that blended supercharged thrills in the more bombastic, quasi-military episodes with their tumultuous brass fanfares with brooding introspection in the darker overtones of the opening movement and exquisite, romantic lyricism in the lovely Adagio third movement. Here the opening clarinet solo beguiled, before the strings wove their magic. Méndez really made them sing with intensity throughout the work (almost swoon at one point in the first movement). Although I was conscious that the horns once or twice threatened to overwhelm the strings, this is a minor carp, considering the overall merit of this reading.

The performance of the early Beethoven concerto was welcome. So often do we hear Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano concerto, the Third or the Fourth. The Second Concerto (actually No.1 in chronological order) was written in 1795, when the composer was in his mid-twenties. Unsurprisingly, the influences of Haydn and Mozart loom large but there is much striking originality on display, the writing forceful and contrastingly delicate particularly in the second Adagio movement. Here I felt that Askar might have invested a little more poetically tender expression. His reading of the outer movements lacked nothing, however, and the rollicking, galloping concluding Rondo was a real delight.

The programme opened with another rarity: Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 1, written for an 1828 Prague performance that did not materialise. It is brief and has its moments but frankly it cannot compare with the other Leonore Overtures, especially No. 3.

The inclusion of the Rachmaninov Symphony made this an exciting and memorable concert. Next week at the Lighthouse, on Wednesday 22nd March, we can look forward to Rachmaninov’s late, less popular yet stimulating Piano Concerto No. 4.

Ian Lace

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