Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony on their Mettle at the BBC Proms

09/08/2017

Proms

2017 BBC PROMS 30 – Beethoven, Strauss, Prokofiev and Walton: David Butt Philip (tenor), James Rutherford (bass-baritone), National Youth Choir of Great Britain, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Kirill Karabits (conductor), Royal Albert Hall, London, 7.8.2017. (AS)

Beethoven – Symphony No. 1 in C

R. StraussDie Frau ohne Schatten – Symphonic Fantasy

ProkofievThey Are Seven

WaltonBelshazzar’s Feast

Here was a nicely balanced programme, progressing from the dawn of Romanticism through late Romantic expression and early anti-Romantic “modernism” to a revolutionary mid-twentieth-century classic.

At the time of its first hearing Beethoven’s First Symphony was also revolutionary, of course. In his performance, Karabits perhaps stressed the work’s eighteenth-century elements rather than its forward-looking nature. He played the first movement at quite a brisk basic tempo, with accents stressed fairly lightly, as he did the second: here the music moved more quickly, surely, than the indicated Andante cantabile con moto. But there was no sense of hurry, and for the moment it all seemed very acceptable. Lightness and elegance again were to the fore in the Menuetto: a little more early Beethovenian forcefulness would not have come amiss. Though Karabits had played the first movement repeat, in the finale repeats were not on the agenda in his swiftly moving but still graceful account. It was a pleasing performance on its own terms, but not one for every day.

Late in his life Strauss decided to rescue music from his then neglected opera Die Frau ohne Schatten and weave it into what he called a “symphonic fantasy”. It was understandable that he should do so, since his arrangement contains some gorgeous episodes, with his gift for creating long-limbed, exquisitely beautiful melodic lines very much to the fore, and luscious scoring for a large orchestra. Karabits and his players rightly and very effectively gorged on this musical feast, but one could see why the piece is rarely performed, since it does rather sprawl, is too episodic and doesn’t meld into a satisfactory entity. Perhaps a suite of separate movements would have proved to be a more effective act of rescue.

Then we heard the first-ever Prom performance of Prokofiev eight-minute cantata They Are Seven. This is a setting of a Third-Century BC Mesopotamian incantation, translated by Konstantin Balmont, in which seven malign spirits are imagined to have been unleashed upon the world. As one might imagine, the music is dark and violent, and it is extraordinarily potent in expression. But its scoring for a tenor soloist in panic mode (an extraordinarily difficult role for the singer, it would seem), chorus and a massive orchestra, together with its brevity, have together ensured that performances are rare indeed. Karabits and his forces immersed themselves with gusto in the piece’s dark-hued, menacing opulence, and David Butt Philip strove manfully to ensure audibility (in the hall, that is to say, for the BBC Radio 3 engineers no doubt ensured a good balance). At once the youthful chorus of some 140 members impressed with its energy, accuracy and tonal depth.

These qualities augured well for the performance of Belshazzar’s Feast, and the choral singing was certainly a highlight of that performance. So much so, in fact, that the singers’ skill and agility may have persuaded Karabits to take rather more excitably fast tempi than we normally hear, at certain points. It was certainly impressive to hear such wonderfully agile and accurate singing, but there is a swaggering, jaunty quality in much of Walton’s writing for both chorus and orchestra, particularly in syncopated passages, and if tempi are too fast this effect is rather lost, as it was on this occasion. Several renowned baritone soloists of the past have experienced intonation problems in this work, and James Rutherford, unfortunately, with his quite heavy vibrato, was no exception. His depiction of the writing on the wall episode was however very effective and vividly dramatic.

Throughout the concert the BSO played exceptionally well, and its qualities on this occasion compared pretty well with the main London orchestras: there were no weak links anywhere.

A black mark is awarded to whoever compiled the programme note on the orchestra’s history. In a reference to chief conductors the name of Sir Dan Godfrey, who founded the orchestra in 1893, and directed it for over 40 years until 1934, was omitted. Nor was there a mention of the great Constantin Silvestri, who in the early 1960s swiftly transformed the existing decent provincial ensemble into a virtuoso body of international standard.

Alan Sanders

For more about the 2017 BBC Proms click here.

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! The Cleveland Orchestra’s 2018 Blossom Music Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! LA Opera’s 2018/19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Buxton Festival 2018 and its New CEO __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Violinist Liza Ferschtman Celebrates Bernstein’s Centenary in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Piccadilly Chamber Music Series in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera and More in Buenos Aires in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Spend a Penny for Grange Park Opera’s Lavatorium Rotundum __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 Lucerne Summer Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Forthcoming Schubert Song Series in Leeds and Sheffield __________________________________
  • NEW! Contemporary Music from Manchester’s Psappha in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! I Musicanti’s Alexandra and the Russians at St Johns Smith Square in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov’s Return to London in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Pierre Boulez Saal’s 2017/18 Season in Berlin __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group to Perform Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto at Cadogan Hall __________________________________
  • NEW! A Celebration of the Work of Dai Fujikura at Wigmore Hall on 17 February __________________________________
  • NEW! Rafael de Acha Introduces Some of Cincinnati’s New Musical Entrepreneurs __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB’s 2018 Emerging Dancer will be Chosen at the London Coliseum on 11 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Akram Khan’s Giselle for ENB Can be Seen in Cinemas from 25 April __________________________________
  • NEW! BARRY DOUGLAS IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • UPDATED! SOME OF OUR REVIEWERS CHOOSE THEIR ‘BEST OF 2017’ __________________________________
  • NEW! OMER MEIR WELLBER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • NEW! GREGOR TASSIE IN CONVERSATION WITH VALENTINA LISITSA __________________________________
  • NEW! Dénes Várjon Talks to Sebastian Smallshaw About Budapest’s Kamara.hu __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM – DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY (1962-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! Ann Murray’s Masterclass at the V&A Part of Opera: Passion, Power and Politics __________________________________
  • NEW! A Composer Speaks Up for the Environment: An Interview with Margaret Brouwer __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Russian Ballet Icons Gala at the London Coliseum on 25 February __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H