Outstanding Performances from Little, Rubikis and BSO

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Brahms, Schubert, Stravinsky: Tasmin Little (violin), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Ainars Rubikis, Town Hall, Cheltenham, 25.10.2012. (RJ)

Brahms: Violin Concerto in D major
Schubert: Symphony No 8 in B minor, D759 (Unfinished)
Stravinsky: Firebird Suite (1919 version)

Anyone who has visited Pörtschach on Austria’s Wörthersee can not fail to be entranced by the atmosphere of the place and its surroundings. Even Brahms was sufficiently inspired by the area to pen one of his sunniest works – his Violin Concerto – and this relaxed feeling predominated in this performance which positively radiated warmth and lyricism. Ainars Rubikis set the tone with a gentle dreamy opening interrupted by rhythmic outbursts, but the drama did not really start until Tasmin Little’s triumphal entry. Eventually the tension melted away to by replaced by exquisite passages of flowing music in which the violin sang forth sweetly; even in the more energetic ones there was little sense of foreboding. Tasmin played Joachim’s extended cadenza at the end of the first movement, and despite the demands it makes on the soloist this was a relaxed, musical interpretation rather than an excuse for virtuosic display.

The Adagio opened serenely with some immaculate playing from the woodwind section including oboist Edward Kay; the conductor was clearly at pains to obtain the delicate balance this movement requires. When the violin entered, the orchestral contribution was nicely controlled offering support rather than competition, but the temperature rose in the gypsy-like atmosphere in the finale. Here soloist and orchestra tossed melodies at each other in a good-humoured manner, and the interaction between the two was sheer delight. Tasmin Little carried off her prestissimo passages without turning a hair and the whole movement expressed a sense of jollity and fun. As soloist, conductor and orchestra took their bow, they gave the impression that they had enjoyed playing the work, and their enthusiasm was certainly reflected in the audience’s reaction.

Interest centred not only on the wonderful Tasmin Little but also on the young Latvian conductor Ainars Rubikis who, though in his early thirties, looks only half that age. Slight of build and with boyish looks he sprang to prominence when he won the Third Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition in 2012. His conducting of two very different works in the second half indicates that he is no nine day wonder but a musician of considerable range and musicianship. He brought a gentle Viennese lilt to Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, which the composer never had the chance to hear played, coaxing some warm playing from the lower strings from the start. Again the woodwind scored highly and the listless violins gave the performance a certain edge. The Romantic feel of the lyrical Adagio was burnished by some evocative horn playing, and echoes of Beethoven came through clearly in the more robust passages.

Stravinsky’s Firebird inhabits a very different sound world, but we were eased into it gently with the sinister introduction starting in the lower strings with murmurs from the brass section. The sounds of nature were well presented by the woodwind and in a sinuous and atmospheric flute solo. The entry of the violins enlivened the scene marking the start of the firebird’s dance, after which the Dance of the Princesses was both plaintive and graceful. Mr Rubikis then launched into the Danse Infernale full of verve and excitement, with a strong performance from the percussion department and gritty sounds from the trombones; you might say that all hell was let loose on this occasion. Calm was restored with the magical Berceuse and some tremulous string playing, at the end of which a horn solo led into the sound and fury of the Finale and a majestic conclusion

This was a stunning performance at the end of which Mr Rubikis seemed keen that the audience should acknowledge the orchestra’s contribution rather than his own. He and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra are clearly a match made in heaven, and they seemed as surprised and delighted with their performance as the audience were. The BSO seem to be on top form these days: I put it down to the bracing Bournemouth sea breezes!

Roger Jones