Karabits’s Intense Early Rachmaninov with Bournemouth SO

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Rachmaninov, TchaikovskyNemanja Radulović (violin), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Kirill Karabits (conductor), The Lighthouse, Poole. 18.4.2018. (IL)

Kirill Karabits (left) with Nemanja Radulović, the soloist in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, in rehearsal
Kirill Karabits (left) with Nemanja Radulović in rehearsal

Rachmaninov – Symphony No.1 in D minor Op.13; Caprice bohémien Op.12
Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto in D Major Op.35

Rachmaninov’s First Symphony is currently enjoying much attention after years of comparative neglect. (It will be recalled that an insensitive and drunken Glazunov’s conducting was responsible for the disastrous first performance that famously plunged Rachmaninov into the deepest of depressions.) As my colleague, Dan Morgan, on MusicWeb International‘s recording review pages recently commented, ‘Everyone seems to be recording Rachmaninov’s First Symphony at the moment’.

At this point I feel I must take the opportunity of commending the BSO programme planners for their consistent intelligence and imagination in building programmes that combine well regarded familiar repertory works with music that is lesser known and sometimes more challenging. Here is a case in point, proving just how inspired and talented the young Rachmaninov was. Two contemporaneous pieces were included at either end of the evening: first the Symphony and finally his Caprice bohémien. In between, to delight, was Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular Violin Concerto.

Karabits and the BSO this evening were inspired to deliver one of the best performances of the Rachmaninov First Symphony I have heard, and surely one to equal that by Ashkenazy. Here was proof of the striking originality of the work and the composer’s strong grip on and regard for form. Already one notices fingerprint influences in the allusions to church bells and to the Dies Irae that would be quoted in so many of the composer’s later works. Karabits’s reading of that gorgeous Larghetto was very affecting, its yearning sublime and the final movement opening fanfares totally thrilling – how well this reviewer remembers them introducing black and white TV editions of BBC’s Panorama back in the 1960s!

Karabits was equally compelling in Rachmaninov’s Caprice bohémien which was much more positively received. Here is the usual bombast but coloured towards gypsy styles and rhythms. I was immediately struck by the originality of the opening percussion gesture, when timpanist, Geoff Prentice, hand brushed one of his drums. I wondered: was this Rachmaninov or a subsequently added refinement?

As an audience draw, the concert included a performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. There was the welcome return of Nemanja Radulović. As before, he entered, all tall and lanky, dressed in black, hair a sight to behold, looking like a refugee from a hard rock group. He may have looked a tad devilish but he played like an angel. His virtuosity is undoubted, his sensitivity refined, both amply in evidence in his rendition of the opening movement’s cadenza for instance. The audience was very enthusiastic, so too was the orchestra judging by the enthusiasm of the first violins, for instance. There is a new DG recording of Radulović playing this work.

It is a shame that this Karabits concert was not broadcast. BBC Radio 3 listeners do not know what they have missed.

A memorable concert.

Ian Lace

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