“Heart and Soul” was the strap-line for this sumptuous programme, and it very nearly lived up to its tag.
There’s no doubting the beauty and intimacy of Elgar’s Violin Concerto; an expansive work with fearsome demands that can deter all but the most resolute of soloists. Kirill Karabits tore into the first-movement’s lengthy introduction with plenty of vigour; red-blooded and self-assured. Light and shade was there too and sufficient variety of pace to indicate a performance that would draw out all its emotional potential. With the entry of Guy Braunstein – formerly a concertmaster of the Berliner Philharmoniker – it became clear that a degree of striving was to dominate this energetic view. His commitment was abundant, so too his solid technique, but it was his determination that marred climaxes where an otherwise pleasing tone grew coarse as phrases were too-fiercely executed. The unease created was not helped by mannerisms (distracting leg movements and puffing out of both cheeks) that gave visual indicators to the music’s formidable demands.
Matters improved in the slow movement which allowed Braunstein to outline its lyricism, by turns glowing and tender. More soulful introspection and shared intimacy would have been welcome so as to underline the confessional aspects, but there was now at least a more sympathetic approach to Elgar’s singing lines. The orchestral support drew some fine playing, with several ear-catching sonorities. While a sense of strain never quite left Braunstein, his Finale cadenza had control and eloquence, its strumming accompaniment (what imaginative orchestration it is!) impressively rendered, the closing pages glorious.
Overall, this was an outing defined by zeal rather than poetic insights, the music’s soul left largely undisturbed. As an encore an exhausted and relieved-looking Braunstein offered Elgar’s Salut d’Amour with the BSO's strings, elegant and affecting.
Karabits and the BSO then gave a scorching reading of Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony. It was especially gratifying to hear the exposition repeated with the heart-easing second subject rendered so cleanly, Karabits avoiding any Hollywood schmaltz; throughout this was a strong, invigorating interpretation with well-judged tempos and carefully calculated climaxes. Just occasionally a little more rasping from the brass would have added a more-Russian colouring. Horn and two harps made a persuasive opening for the well-shaped Adagio, later capped by excellent solo woodwind contributions (flute and bass-clarinet) and Amyn Merchant’s violin. Vigour and momentum informed the eventful Finale with a hard-driven fugato given out by superbly disciplined strings, and the end was wonderfully rousing, almost frenzied in its intensity and, in precision and passion, a demonstration that the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is at the top of its game.