Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Prom 4: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Karabits @ Royal Albert Hall, London

21 July 2019

Kirill Karabits

Kirill Karabits

Some conductors could learn a lot from Kirill Karabits. His style is minimal and precise, with a clear beat and some economically expressive left-hand gestures that result in an orchestra that is completely in synch with what he demands. And it certainly ensures some top-class delivery – particularly on dynamic subtlety, of which he is a master.

John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine was given a suitably relentless treatment, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra wringing the most out of its textures – particularly enjoyable were the fat brass sounds. There was a tiny hint, in the early bars, of some furious counting going on, but the players soon settled into unconscious competence, and a trust in Karabits’ calibre.

Barber’s 1939 Violin Concerto ought to be more popular than it is (this was only its seventh Proms outing), as it’s a stunning work, full of all the romantic tropes that you’d want from a violin concerto, with a requirement for pyrotechnic brilliance in the final movement. Sunday evening’s performance was as good as it gets. The soloist, Nemanja Radulović, bounced onto the stage clearly channelling Holst’s ‘Uranus the Magician’ from later in the programme. He’s an engaging performer – swaying, dancing, and in complete communication with the orchestra, catching the eye of each section that accompanies him, as though sharing a special moment. Normally the concerto opens with a spurt of optimistic bravura into the engagingly lush melody, but Radulović opted for the softest of entries that dissolved from the air – and this perfect pianissimo playing (particularly on long bow strokes) became a feature throughout the concerto, as if he had replaced his strings with silk; the low entry of the theme in the second movement was utterly magical. Karabits and the orchestra matched him to the decibel – indeed, the whole concerto was light on its feet, with the quietest of bubbling woodwind and skipping trumpets in the first movement, a sinister and insistent trumpet ostinato in the second, and a breathtakingly quiet timpani roll in the movement’s closing bars. Radulović, though, packed a punch when it was needed, and the final movement was full of virtuosic sawing that elicited a well-deserved roar from the audience at its completion. The energetic encore of a folk dance from his native Serbia sealed the deal, ensuring his place in the Proms Hall of Fame.

Here’s a fact about Holst’s The Planets: since its first Proms outing in 1921, there have been only 20 seasons when it – or a part of it – has not made an appearance. In the face of this, crafting a unique Proms performance is a challenge. As could be expected, ‘Mr Dynamics’ Karabits demanded – and received – from the orchestra a full range: the loudest section of ‘Mars’ was apocalyptically loud, and the final bars of ‘Neptune’ disappeared into the same ether from which the first notes of the Barber had condensed. All of Holst’s imaginative characterisations were fully delineated: the inexorable quintuple time of ‘Mars’; the strange pastoral quality of ‘Venus’, ‘Mercury’s’ – well – mercuriality; the alternating busyness and solemnity of ‘Jupiter’ (in whose opening section Karabits took no rubato prisoners); the tick of ‘Saturn’s’ sinister clock-in-another-room; the galumphing of ‘Uranus’ (and a moment of magnificent abandon from the organ) and the formlessness of ‘Neptune’ (made even more otherworldly by the use of boys’ voices from Trinity Boys School, rather than the usual women’s voices). Somehow, the orchestral tone had a richer-than-usual quality throughout that worked for some movements (‘Venus’ for example), but it needed to be drier and more impersonal for others (particularly ‘Saturn’). But a great performance, nonetheless.

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