Thursday, 10 February 2011

Sunwook Kim with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra Thursday 20 January: Kirill Karabits conducts at the Cathedral

Sadly, a limited view of the orchestra,
even from the aisles
While the Great Hall at Exeter University is undergoing it's extensive renovation Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra concerts in Exeter are being held in the Cathedral.  Sadly, despite the great atmosphere that the Cathedral provides, concerts are often disappointing visually.  Most audience members cannot see the musicians unless they are raised on staging.  Some aisle seats offer a limited view of the orchestra from the side, but pillars limit how much of the action anyone can see.
 What staging there was had sensibly been allocated to the percussion and brass sections.  During the opening performance, of Dvořák's 1891 'Carnival Overture' the audience was treated to an exhilarating auditory and visual display.  A huge pair of cymbals were the centrepiece, flanked by tympani and - a tambourine!  That tambourine was very significant in the opening section. As the orchestra erupted in a fury of sound the tambourine added its surprisingly loud  contribution.  Just as quickly the excitement abated to allow the woodwind players to perform their contrastingly delicate solos.  Almost inevitably, the temperature started to rise again, and the jingle of the tambourine prepared us for another another wild career through the sounds of the orchestra.  Even with every instrument at full stretch that tambourine kept adding its two penn'orth until the final feverish flurry crashed to a close.
One of the five French Horns
brought by the BSO
Chopin's 1830 Piano Concerto No 2 introduced South Korean soloist Sunwook Kim.  Sadly, he and his paino were invisible to most people, but the sound was definitely audible.  His playing was clear and precise throughout and sweetly augmented by the orchestra, the langorous second movement involving very effective pizzicato from the bass players.  The third movement (allegro vivace) allowed the strings to go a little crazy indulging in pizzicato and ricochet which died away until it sounded like teeth chattering.  Throughout, the piano was controlled and volume always just right.  The big finish was no surprise as the tympanist could be clearly seen preparing himself for his big final drum-roll accompanied by the tuba, trombones, trumpets and five French horns.
To loud applause  the invisible Sunwook Kim - er - disappeared into the north aisle, but must have reappeared again.  A solo encore began which seemed perfectly suited to the building, filling the space well.  The lyrical story-like piece was very familiar: 'Träumerei' from Robert Schumann's 1838 'Kinderscenen'.
Exit one grand piano
- a spectacle in itself
After an interval during which the grand piano was wheeled out through the west door - a very entertaining procedure - the orchestra returned for Brahms 1884 Fourth Symphony.  The French horns began with a hunting theme echoed by the strings, the brass, even the piccolo flutes.  Up on the staging, one of the few instrumentalists on view, the contra-bassoonist patiently waited his turn.  The excitement mounted, the tympani rolled, but still the contra-bassoon did not sound.  The second movement opened with horns again, flutes, muted pizzicato and bassoons adding waves of sound with a vigorous double bass in the background.  Contra-bassoon?  Not yet apparently.  The 'cellos and double basses plucked out a delightful finish accompanied by the clarinets.  Part three - allegro giocoso.  The orchestra was joined at last by the deep soft tones of the contra-bassoon accompanied by - the triangle!  From the highest point on the staging the tiny triangle rang out with its defiant 'ting!' even as the whole orchestra worked up to its mighty closing chord.  Although that sounded pretty final, there was yet another movement to come - 'allegro energetico e passionate' - which was precisely that.  The bassoons and trumpets started angrily, soothed by oboes and flutes before the pace picked up again, with the 'cellos leading in the oboes and clarinets.  The strings were briefly tender before another violent outburst with brass and tympani adding to the volume before pausing to let the strings in, who in their turn built up the sound and fury leading to a wildly energetic tremolo punctuated by the beat of the tympani.  Finally a wrenched pizzicato on the strings led to the big finale by the horns - and all!
Bring on the contra-bassoon!
A wonderful concert, and a wonderful performance by all concerned.  If only the audience could have seen the musicians.  Roll on the new-look Great Hall.  With its £48M price-tag let's hope an orchestra can play where we can see them.

'Pure Brahms' was followed up by 'Mostly Mendelssohn' with piano soloist Angela Hewitt on Thursday 3rd February (which ironically opened with Brahms).  That concert is not covered here but Ivan Hewett was at the concert for the Telegraph and his review is posted at

Kirill Karabits will be back at the Cathedral with the BSO again next Thursday 17 February for a programme called 'Arabian Nights'.

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Exeter Cathedral Thursday 17 February 7.30pm
'Arabian Nights'
Mozart: The Magic Flute
Strauss: Don Quixote
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade
Tickets from £9.50 (unreserved, side aisles)
Box: 665700

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