Dynamic, Vividly Coloured Martinů 4 from Marković and the BSO

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Martinů: Alexander Romanovsky (piano), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Aleksandar Marković (conductor), Lighthouse, Poole, 26.10.2016. (IL)

Tchaikovsky – Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture

Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No. 1  in F-sharp minor

Martinů – Symphony No. 4

The first half of this programme comprised popular Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov sweets.

Marković’s Romeo and Juliet had energy and élan enough and some interesting touches including having a horn play, fortissimo, a warning note of impending doom over Tchaikovsky’s syrupy romantic theme.  ‘Not exactly Stokowski’s wild abandon and high romance, but amply thrilling.  I have a plea to BSO programme compilers: Could we not have Tchaikovsky’s exciting fantasy overture Hamlet …. or his symphonic poem, Francesca da Rimini included in a future programme, please?

It seems such a shame that Rachmaninov’s sublime First Piano Concerto should languish in popularity far behind the composer’s Second and Third Piano Concertos for it is full of lovely melodies and extrovert excitement. Marković’s orchestral accompaniment had some nicely judged rubato and I was delighted that he included some unashamed portamenti in the introduction before the piano entered. Romanovsky pounced on his opening chords lion-like and his reading was lucid and masterful, yet he could have been a little more sensitive to the moods of the more intimate passages especially in the middle movement where a little tenderness would not have gone amiss. Again could BSO programmers consider featuring Rachmaninov’s underrated Fourth Piano Concerto, please?

Martinů’s Fourth Symphony was composed during his American exile in 1945 in New York and Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He had been forced to flee his native Bohemia against the Nazi threat and to remain in exile, in Italy and Switzerland because of the Communist regime established in his homeland. Something of his Fourth Symphony must inevitably have reflected his distress and disappointment but the overall impression of this work is one that is positive and life-affirming.

I was struck by an affinity between this Symphony and the Walton Second Symphony heard in the BSO Lighthouse concert of 12th October this year (review) in the use of a piano that was an integral part of the orchestral fabric and not just used as some percussive facility. Walton used a larger orchestra including two harps whereas Martinů abrogates their use but accomplishes effects that scintillate and shimmer with a slightly smaller ensemble.

This Fourth Symphony comprises ideas that are highly individualistic in form and rhythm. Influences of Janáček, Bartók and Stravinsky and his native folk music with their own idiosyncrasies may be there, but so too are flashes of impressionism, some Late Romantic language and much more – all in a heady kaleidoscopic, highly coloured invention that sings and engages the emotions. Marković and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, in every department delivered a rhythmically vital, sparkling and enthralling life-affirming performance.

Ian Lace

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