Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at The Anvil Basingstoke – Kirill Karabits conducts Benvenuto Cellini & Prokofiev 5, Renaud Capuçon plays Mendelssohn

Benvenuto Cellini – Overture
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Symphony No.5 in B flat, Op.100

Renaud Capuçon (violin)

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Kirill Karabits

Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Reviewed: 7 October, 2011
Venue: The Anvil, Basingstoke

Kirill Karabits. ©Yuri ShkodaSpringing forth from the starting blocks, Kirill Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra forecast good things for the rest of this concert with a performance of the Overture to Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini full of tremendous energy and weight of tone. A special characteristic of The Anvil’s acoustic is the remarkable depth of bass sonority that can be heard from almost anywhere in the hall; even with this in mind, the orchestra’s large string section mustered a rich sound in this exuberant and adventurous overture.

Renaud CapuçonRichness and scale of tone was not among Renaud Capuçon’s problems, but for all his projection, his performance of Mendelssohn’s ubiquitous Violin Concerto never demanded attention. He immediately pulled back from Karabits’s initial tempo, instead settling into sluggish mode that lacked any forward momentum, until he suddenly rallied in the coda. A wide, slow vibrato didn’t help things, hampering articulation and intonation, most noticeably in the Andante, where Capuçon struggled to keep his double-stops from souring. In the fluttering flight of the finale he seemed oddly frantic and not quite able to get inside the rhythm or quite coordinate with the orchestra. The impression was of a performer growing weary of a warhorse.

Thank goodness, then, for a really invigorating performance of Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony. This is the kind of meaty Russian symphony that Karabits loves and programmes often and while The Anvil felt at times too small to contain the work’s mightiest climaxes, he and the Bournemouth Symphony made a good case for a swift and propulsive reading (they are recording Prokofiev’s symphonies for Onyx). Maybe Karabits’s conducting didn’t make the most of the remarkable flow of the first movement, but moments such as his easing into the second theme’s reappearance before the coda displayed his ear for detail and the orchestra’s willingness to cooperate. A special mention, too, for the outstanding playing of the principal trumpeter whose solo moments sailed above the broad body of orchestral sound.

Karabits continued pressing urgently forward in the second movement, though the Adagio that followed suffered for his chopping of tempos and haste through its central sections. Karabits inserted a small pause between the movement’s screeching climax and the distantly serene return to the movement’s first theme; another little detail that worked beautifully. So too did the introduction to the finale, full of relief at the passing of the Adagio’s chilly terror. Then, to the sting in the tail: the moment of truth towards the end of the finale, when the jovial atmosphere suddenly derails and speeds to a screaming resolution and a vision of mechanised hell; thrillingly caught here, if a little heavy on stuttering snare drum. A shame, then, to read Prokofiev’s description of the symphony as “a hymn to free and happy man, to his mighty powers, his pure and noble spirit”, quoted, as it often is, so uncritically in the programme note, and then to be told, of the Symphony’s conclusion, that “the high spirits lead on to the jubilant coda, in which the percussion players are given every opportunity to display their skills.” How jarring this is when faced with a performance that brought to the fore the Symphony’s ultimate trajectory of oblivion.

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