Going out with a bang at Poole

Bartók
The Miraculous Mandarin Suite, Op.19, Sz.73
Prokofiev
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op.26
Shostakovich
Symphony No.5 in D minor Op.47

Alexander Gavrylyuk (piano)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Kirill Karabits


Reviewed by: David Truslove

Reviewed: 15 May, 2024
Venue: The Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset

Wednesday’s concert at the Lighthouse concluded one of the most imaginative orchestral partnerships in the UK. As the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s second-longest-serving chief conductor, Kirill Karabits bid farewell to colleagues in Poole following his fifteen-year tenure during which time he has championed much unfamiliar music in his ‘Voices from the East’ series. His final concert at this address showcased 20th century music from Hungary and Russia, a generous programme attended by a packed audience who collectively rose to their feet as he stepped onto the podium.

Proceedings began with the Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin. Originally conceived as a staged ballet, its gruesome portrait of thuggery, murder and seduction fell foul of the censors after its single performance in 1926, thereafter prompting a ‘sawn off’ version of some twenty-minutes. This visceral account outlined the febrile cityscape of its opening section, superbly supported by precision-engineered strings (violas especially trenchant) and whooping brass, its urban clamour uppermost. Thereafter, the three seductive games were suitably alluring and aggressive (clarinet and priapic trombones impressing), the entrance of the Mandarin striking for its impressionistic haze and a frenzied dance led to a nightmarish chase sequence. In short, Karabits drove this uncompromising score with a bracing vitality.

Some of its hard-hitting energy found its way into Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3, a work of teasing unpredictability. But some of its chutzpah and swagger were missing in this roistering outing, with the diminutive figure of Ukrainian born, Australian pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk bringing more muscle than sparkle to the fiendish piano writing. From its silky opening clarinet gesture, the opening movement unfolded with considerable dynamism, its weight and tempi robbing detail from this brightly lit score. A measure of poise arrived in the variation movement, Gavrylyuk variously frolicsome and big-boned, and dreamy in the fourth variation where horns soothed the ear. More often the music felt harassed, and the joyride of the finale demonstrated a virtuosity verging on the brash despite the ease with which Gavrylyuk dispatched the leaping chords and demi-semiquaver runs, with Prokofiev’s generous tune providing temporary respite before the glittering final furlong. The soloist returned to the platform to perform an arrangement of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise.

There followed a barnstorming account of Shostakovich’s Symphony No 5, its famous opening bars suitably forthright. The wintry lyricism and subsequent thematic transformation brought stark contrasts, and if the first movement’s shattering climax felt pre-empted, the sense of resignation in the closing paragraph was perfectly judged, chamber sonorities delicately shaped for an atmospheric coda. A heavy-footed Ländler drew fearsome bow strokes from ‘cellos and ‘basses and puckish woodwind brought sardonic nose-thumbing. The serene detachment of the Largo was highly charged, with woodwind principals bringing balm to the movement’s sullen loneliness, harp and tremolo strings magical in their tender commentary. Thereafter, the Finale emerged as a bombastic traversal, notwithstanding its slow central panel, the BSO throwing all they had at its jubilation/defiance, its grandstand finish loud enough to be heard all over Dorset.

Karabits couldn’t resist a poignant sendoff and brought the evening to a close with the Farewell Serenade (Abschiedsserenade) by fellow Ukrainian composer Valenti Silvestrov. More music from the Ukraine can be heard on Sunday 19th May when the BSO present its day-long celebration ‘Voices from the East’ at the Royal Festival Hall.

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