Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Piano Concerto No.2
Symphony No.2 in E-flat, Op.63
Sunwook Kim (piano)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: David Truslove
Reviewed: 3 February, 2023
Venue: The Anvil, Basingstoke, Hampshire
As adventurous as Kirill Karabits is when planning repertoire for the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, British music does not appear at the top of his to-do list. So far this season only Elgar (First Symphony and Cello Concerto) and Walton (Violin Concerto) have featured on the schedule, so it was a special treat to hear Elgar’s Second Symphony, placed after the languor and sensuality of Debussy and the visceral drama and finger-breaking demands of Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto. If the programme seemed an unlikely ménage, it was a stylistic traversal bringing together impressionism, neoclassicism and late-romanticism.
The evening began with an affectionate account of the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894), its rarified atmosphere initiated by Anna Pyne’s mellifluous flute and flowering into a well-judged evocation, Karabits fully capturing the desires and dreams of Stephane Mallarmé’s symbolistpoem. There was plenty of warmth in the rich-toned central string passage and the subtle colouring of two antique cymbals heightened the magic of the closing pages. No wonder Ravel declared this is “the only music I know which is absolutely perfect”.
A striking change of mood and colour arrived with the Bartók (completed 1931), written for its composer as a virtuosic vehicle to perform on tour. Here, Sunwook Kim was the fearless soloist in a barnstorming performance. The opening movement drew from Karabits somewhat rigid gestures as if he was struggling to bring order to passages that threatened to become overwrought. But it was excitement rather than untidiness that prevailed, and only occasionally did the orchestra overpower the soloist, Kim brought clarity and precision to his task. The second movement’s night music (bearing brief echoes of Charles Ives’s Central Park in the Dark), introducing the strings, conveyed mystery, if not anything unsettling, while Kim resolutely threaded his way through the mist with sinister implications added from Barnaby Archer’s timpani. Exhilaration returned for the bracing Finale.
There followed a purposeful account of Elgar’s lavishly scored Second Symphony (1911), an hour-long traversal variously buoyant, rousing and solemn, if not digging deeply enough emotionally in the Larghetto. The first movement combined swagger, nonchalance and intimacy, Karabits avoiding any hint of stodgy textures and creating clear thematic outlines with a surging forward motion. A flexible tempo occupied the funeral march, Karabits pulling back here and pressing forward there; its mood nicely caught by Edward Kay’s soulful oboe, with brass and timpani contributing to a shattering climax. Woodwinds were delightfully impish in the Rondo, its ‘demonic forces’ more comic than menacing, its climax superbly negotiated with timpani and percussion resolutely to the fore. And on to a well-shaped Finale, the whole driven-forward with purpose and intensity suggesting Karabits was as much inspired by Shelley’s ‘Spirit of Delight’ as the composer.