Slavic Excellence Enriches Caledonian Grandeur at a BSO Concert in Plymouth

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn: Nikita Boriso-Glebsky (violin), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Marta Gardolińska (conductor). Plymouth Guildhall, 2.11.2019. (PRB)

Marta Gardolińska and Nikita Boriso-Glebsky (c) Philip R Buttall

Mozart The Marriage of Figaro Overture

SibeliusValse Triste

Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto in D major

Mendelssohn – Symphony No.3 ‘Scottish’

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s Caledonian Grandeur programme is a short series of concerts in which the second half features Mendelssohn’s Scottish’ Symphony – Caledonia refers to Scotland, or the Scottish Highlands. The first half includes one of two overtures and concertos respectively. The series actually opened here in Plymouth Guildhall with the added bonus of Sibelius’s much-loved Valse Triste. That was to compensate for the somewhat shorter overture and concerto of this alternative programme option. While I have been fortunate to have reviewed the orchestra on many occasions in the past, this was my first opportunity to see them under Polish-born BSO Young Conductor in Association, Marta Gardolińska, conducting without a baton.

Mozart actually conducted the first performance of his opera buffa The Marriage of Figaro. Given that it requires the resources of a smaller chamber orchestra, many conductors would no doubt feel that a baton was not an absolute necessity here. Within a few seconds of Gardolińska taking her introductory bow, the orchestra led by Amyn Merchant was off at a tremendous pace, probably taking less than a millisecond to settle in. Despite this being a well-travelled overture, there was a real freshness to the reading, with nuances and exceptional attention to detail, especially dynamics high on the list. Watching Gardolińska as she conducted this short four-minute offering, it was quickly apparent that, in her individual case, nothing at all seemed to have been sacrificed by her using hands only.

Sibelius’s Valse Triste is a perfect candidate for ‘hands-on’ conducting. While this is such a familiar piece, I found myself totally engrossed in the outstanding performance. There have been many run-of-the-mill examples of this somewhat lugubrious piece, and this could so easily have been the case here, where it might have been used just to fill the gap between overture and concerto and effect a complete change of mood. But there was so much to savour, in a mere six minutes, where conductor and orchestra working in perfect collaboration, crafted a performance that must be up there with some of the very best. While it was taken at quite a slow tempo, Gardolińska’s skill and insight into the score sustained the melancholy nature throughout, yet with some wonderfully passionate climaxes and associated changes of tempo along the way.

If the hors d’oeuvre and starter had both been so very appetizing, then the ensuing main course of this banquet was certainly fit for a Queen, The BSO was now joined by Russian violinist Nikita Boriso-Glebsky in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, always a popular work on the concert platform. Initially the composer experienced problems in finding a soloist prepared to give the premiere. One potential candidate, Leopold Auer, even withdrew, unhappy with the concert’s technical ‘impossibility’. Boriso-Glebsky posed a genial, unassuming figure on the stage, as he waited for the orchestra to finish their short introduction of twenty or so bars. But that short wait was immensely productive, because soloist and conductor were able to make any final adjustments in terms of orchestral balance and tempo almost by telepathy; the musical bond and empathy between the two is one of the reasons why the performance was such an overwhelming experience and success. Boriso-Glebsky’s technique was second to none, and, had his performance been recorded live, even with the type of extreme scrutiny possible with a CD, I doubt that he would want to have changed more than a single note – if that.

But a superb technique and glorious tone, matched by an innate ability to produce this at every conceivable dynamic level, is the given nowadays. There has to be more gleaned from a minute examination of the score to make the final performance really special. Here violinist and conductor had clearly done their homework, and the result was sensational. But it did not even stop there. Gardolińska’s approach not only ensures that the orchestra plays as one, but equally never stifles a little bit of individualism from some quarters. For example, I sat close to BSO Principal Cellist Jesper Svedberg; it was great fun to see him make a little phrase in the concerto finale his own – just a little drone passage on open strings, but something he clearly took a fancy to, as did the conductor, too, it seemed. Boriso-Glebsky overcame every technical challenge in the book, with the minimum of unnecessary gesture, with an almost uncanny feel for accuracy and intonation particularly where pyrotechnics were called for, but also with such a glorious warm tone, as in the hushed cantilena of the slow movement. If there was just one slight reservation here, it did seem, from my vantage point, that the reiterated dominant pedal note from the horn slightly detracted from the muted delicacy of the violin. The finale was everything you could wish for, with everyone pulling out all the stops to send the audience off in the interval on the highest of highs.

Most of us will have works we love, those we like, those we tolerate, and those we would rather avoid. If a performance has something unique to say, I am always prepared to rethink, and perhaps even reorder, my Favourites List. Just such a work for me is Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony. I suppose I have always preferred the Italian Symphony, but still reeling from the Tchaikovsky, I sat back and let Gardolińska and the BSO take me on a musical journey across the border. The eminently persuasive performance, and the individual characterization of each of the four constituent movements proved a truly magical experience throughout. Gardolińska simply could not have asked any more from her willing and well-disciplined players. The jury’s still out as to whether I might now rank the Scottish above the Italian Symphony as a piece of music, but I am now seeing it in more ‘northern’ light and colours.

Let me sum up. I felt that Marta Gardolińska really made her presence felt here, and the orchestra responded unfailingly. What particularly impressed me about her conducting was that the whole time her movements and body language were exactly enough to communicate her feelings, and ensure that everyone was on board, but without the need for over gesticulation, or mere affectation. And when this is all tied in with a clear beat that seems easy to follow, it is simply the dream-conducting package.

To see another packed audience was encouraging, and it further confirms that there is definitely a real desire for the BSO to come to Plymouth more than just twice a year. Yes, it is a longer journey and, on leaving the auditorium, you have to feel sympathy for the players who, despite their luxury coaches, then face the journey of over a hundred miles back to base and not on some of the best roads either. Exeter, on the other hand, enjoys considerably more than two visits annually, and is shown as being just seventy-two miles for them to travel. Perhaps this is the reason for this apparent disparity?

Philip R Buttall

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