Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra review

TRIUMPH THROUGH DEFIANCE Christopher Morley reviews Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's first live concert since lockdown

The Lighthouse, Poole

Dougie Scarfe, Chief Executive of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, greeted us from the pinnacle of the Lighthouse's stage area.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back after the longest break in our 127-year history." He concluded by reassuring us that "full-scale symphony concerts with full-scale orchestras will eventually return."
For now, though, this opening concert of the BSO's ambitious autumn season, streamed online as well as playing live to a carefully socially-distanced audience, was given with various modifications above which the whole setup of the orchestra, both front and back of a specially extended stage, rose triumphantly. Indeed, in my mind I christened this remarkable event "Triumph through Defiance".
Triumph over Covid restrictions which required the masked near-300 (with another 1700 watching online) audience to be carefully separated in their relationship bubbles and in staggered rows; triumph over the necessity to segregate desk partners of the orchestra, so that there could be no whispered encouragements to section members, no string colleagues sitting alongside to page-turn, and a heavier load for concertmaster Amyn Merchant leading his scattered colleagues so valiantly.
There was a huge plus to all this, every one of the players on their mettle in these unusual circumstances, and a sound which breathed through the space and revealed detail which under normal conditions might be stifled. No, I am not advocating a permanent resource to such arrangements, but I am pleased there were plus sides.
Assistant conductor David Hill was on the podium, stepping in for the quarantined Kirill Karabits. But Karabits, the BSO's principal conductor was present in his own arrangement of Bach's chorale setting of Ein feste Burg, a transcription travelling through every section of the orchestra, bringing in tubular bells at the climax. I was reminded of Walton's Wise Virgins ballet arrangements.
We moved immediately into Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question, the string tapestry hushed and controlled. Chris Avison's offstage trumpet eerily evocative. This was a triumph for the orchestra's collective musicianship.
Then came Britten's 1941 arrangement (one wonders why?) of the second movement, "What the wild flowers tell me", of Mahler's mighty Third Symphony, the work which had been planned for the opening of the BSO's 2020-21 subscription season. This was given with great affection, the woodwind fleet and gurgling in their episodes.
Beethoven's mighty Symphony no.7 found the BSO reaching even more impressive heights in a natural, honest account, dynamically supple, pulsing with rhythmic impetus, and with ensemble virtually unscathed.
My only cavil was that the scherzo should have been followed immediately, non-stop, by the finale, as the pulse is identical. Instead we had an unwelcome breather while the conductor mopped his brow.
This whole event was a triumph of the human spirit over adversity. The audience were rapt, the players so glad to be performing together again. Even curmudgeonly old me joined in the enthusiastic and well-deserved standing ovation.
Christopher Morley

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