A Fabulous Evening at the Proms with Kirill Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony

22/07/2019

BBC PROM 4 – Adams, Barber, Holst: Nemanha Radulović (violin), Trinity Boys Choir, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Kirill Karabits (conductor). Royal Albert Hall, London, 21.7.2019. (CC)

Nemanja Radulović (violin) (c) BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Adams – Short Ride in a Fast Machine (1986)
Barber – Violin Concerto (1939)
Holst – The Planets

Both Keith Potter’s programme notes and David Gutman’s ‘Previously at the Proms’ brought attention to the blighted history of Adams’s piece, cancelled twice in its Proms history, the first because of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the second because of the tragic events of September 11, 2011. Happily, no disasters prevented this performance by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, its bright optimism suiting the orchestra’s bright sound; it was all showmanship, something Karabits himself joined in with by almost turning to the audience at the very last gesture. But careful listening reveals an intelligent conductor at work, Adams’s layers beautifully revealed in a performance of razor-sharp precision, sharp chords slashing against the prevailing repeated, Minimalist fragments. This was a terrific performance of a piece that, somewhat ironically given its Proms history, is actually perfect for this (pardon the pun) arena.

The highlight of the evening was Barber’s Violin Concerto performed by the Franco-Serbian violinist, Nemanha Radulović. This is a beautiful work, the lyricism of its first two movements contrasted with the moto perpetuo, Presto, finale. Radulović seems to enjoy a close association with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Karabits: my colleague Ian Lace has reported on the orchestra on its home turf in Poole with this soloist in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (review) and the Khachaturian Violin Concerto (review). I am sure Radulović’s appearance will always cause comment: dressed in black, modernist hair, this could be yet another shock-to-gain-attention-artist. Only it isn’t. There is something about his playing that convinces me, at least, that this is actually how Radulović is; it is an expression of himself. Certainly, it allows him to enter into Barber’s blissful, lyrical concerto fully. Firstly, his sound is utterly beautiful, exactly what the long lines of Barber’s concerto require. His technique is boundless, heard initially in terms of the sure tuning of his stopping and, later, in that perilous finale. The final part of the equation is the sheer communication between Radulović and Karabits, almost telepathic in nature. Ensemble was superb but more, all players were absolutely following the same interpretative script. There was an understanding between soloist and conductor that comes of a shared vision held true and dear. The accompanied cadenza in the first movement was atmospherically done, the cellos and double-basses grounding the soloist’s ruminations. All credit to the oboist in the central Andante (Edward Kay), and to all for honouring the core lyricism of this movement. Karabits allowed the orchestra to relish the moment that Barber adds the harshest dissonances so far; and what a shame the end of the movement was once more blighted by applause. Electronic devices had their say this evening, too. The glistening finale was of jaw-dropping virtuosity, but also felt just right, reminding us of what a very fine work this is.

There was a surprise, and fun, encore: a Serbian round dance for Radulović and selected string members of the orchestra.

And so, to Holst’s The Planets, with a surprise twist of a boys’ choir instead of female voices in ‘Neptune,’ giving those final ululating repetitions a truly starry, almost crystalline, aspect. Before that, there was a reading that in terms of tempi was middle of the road but in terms of detail and élan was anything but. This journey through the planets was an emotional journey on its own terms, a long ride in what must surely be a fast interplanetary machine, regularly brought back to terra firma via inter-movement applause.

That orchestral brightness was there again for ‘Mars,’ while ‘Venus’ moved apace but effectively, garlanded by an appropriately silvery ringtone. Beautiful, sweet-toned solos from the leader, Amyn Merchant, along with just a touch of portamento, sealed the deal; Jesper Svedberg’s solo cello contributions were just as telling. Karabits started ‘Mercury’ before the applause had finished – a revealing, dismissive gesture? This first Scherzo was beautifully light, fully contrastive to the long-breathed tune of ‘Jupiter,’ which here enjoyed plenty of space. Interesting that Karabits inserted such a pronounced Luftpause before the triple-time horn passage.

The sheer orchestral control of ‘Saturn’ was a joy to experience – the tension was sustained throughout, while ‘Uranus,’ another scherzo, was gloriously light. And here, there was a moment of orchestrational illumination, too, in which suddenly it became unsurprising that Holst also wrote for military band (the First Suite in E flat was premiered in 1920, although the work had been completed in 1909). Finally, that evocative ‘Neptune’, the floaty ethereal sounds astonishingly clean, the distancing and final disappearance into nothingness perfectly judged.

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is in fine fettle. There was a sense of preparation to the performance, a sense of care, one does not always get from London orchestras. A fabulous evening; worth noting, too, that the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s adventures on Chandos are worth tracking, not least their recent recording of two works by Boris Lyatoshynsky, his Third Symphony and the symphonic poem Grazhyna: see Rob Barnett’s review here.

Colin Clarke

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