Bournemouth SO/Kirill Karabits at The Anvil Basingstoke – Shostakovich 10 – Alisa Weilerstein plays Prokofiev

Symphony-Concerto in E minor, Op.125
Symphony No.10 in E minor, Op.93

Alisa Weilerstein (cello)

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Kirill Karabits

Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Reviewed: 3 October, 2013
Venue: The Anvil, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England

Kirill Karabits. Photograph: Sussie AhlburgIf the musicians of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra felt any disappointment at the paltry turn-out – numbering in the low hundreds – for this Basingstoke appearance, they didn’t let on. Instead, they offered a concert of blistering intensity and quite brilliant playing, capped by a dazzling performance by an American cellist who, if there’s any justice, is destined for a stellar career.

Alisa Weilerstein left a tantalising calling card last year with her first record for Decca, coupling cello concertos by Elgar and Elliott Carter. It was a brave choice and signalled a bold approach to programming only reinforced by the selection of Prokofiev’s mighty Symphony-Concerto for this present performance. Although the opus number (125) falls very late in Prokofiev’s career, the piece has its roots in the Cello Concerto of 1938.Alisa Weilerstein. Photograph: Decca / © Harald HoffmannWhen the composer met Mstislav Rostropovich in the last years of his life the young cellist urged a reappraisal of the earlier work and prompted a substantial re-write of the piece. What emerged drew on the same basic material but was, in reality, new.

Sardonic wit and dazzling virtuosity are turned up to the max here; Karabits and his orchestra had the measure of both. He drove a taut accompaniment, but the real highlight was Weilerstein’s playing. From the first notes she delivered a gripping combination of solidity and fluidity, taking plenty of risks and never shying away from dirtying her sound in pursuit of the music’s madcap drama. The second-movement cadenza found her in combative and thrillingly exact form, dashing off Prokofiev’s machine-gun runs with staggering dexterity. But it wasn’t just hard-nosed brilliance: the final movement’s charming celesta-driven fairy-tale passage was infinitely touching, and if the white heat of the fevered final moments didn’t quite come off, it didn’t stop excitable comparisons with Rostropovich rolling around my mind. It was that good.

After all that, the BSO’s performance of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony could have felt like an afterthought; that it didn’t is a testament to the excellent form the orchestra is enjoying and to the clear grip of Karabits in music he loves. He eschewed moody atmosphere for a direct reading of the first movement’s long arc, which might have seemed too matter-of-fact had it not breathed quite so naturally. It was studded with solos of great delicacy from the clarinets and bassoons, counterpointed by coruscating exactness from the crisp trumpets. From the strings, Karabits was given wonderfully nuanced and coloured playing that more than made up for some slips of ensemble. The demonic scherzo was rammed home with ferocious percussion playing, including what must be the most energetic and penetrating use of the snare drum I’ve ever witnessed. The third movement is often the most difficult to bring off, and so it was here – pointed and sensitive, but not quite coherent. Karabits and his players, though, managed to impart a rare weight and power in the finale, which can struggle to counterbalance to portent of the first movement. This is an orchestra on the up and it was only a shame that so few were there to hear it.

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