Opening this Lighthouse concert with Bartók’s Dance Suite (1923), Kirill Karabits led a controlled and colourful account, with cameo roles and solo groupings smoothly executed. There could have been more rhythmic abandon though and the slow fourth section might have had more mystery. A sense of restraint produced only occasional glimpses of rusticity, but overall it was a polished, if rather polite, performance.
Much more convincing was Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto (1939). Nemanja Radulović commanded attention with playing of sustained energy and musicality. Barber declared he was an “unabashed romantic” – and in the opening movement it was clear that Radulović is of similar persuasion; his playing was beautifully poised, the main theme shaped tenderly and with rubato, phrase-endings falling away to nothing, and his tone – if not especially big, nor in the higher reaches faultlessly in tune – was spontaneous. In the Adagio Edwards Kay’s oboe solo was heart-easing and provided warmth for Radulović’s captivating first entry – intimate and magical – when his bow barely touched the strings; and the climax was emotionally shattering. The Finale brought out some treasures from the BSO; unrestrained timpani and trumpet caught the ear. Most dazzling was the audacious, almost homicidal tempo set by Radulović; here was flamboyance without showmanship and the electricity generated could have powered the South of England for a month. Returning for an encore, with a nonet of supporting string players, he gave a traditional Serbian piece, ‘Pašona kolo’ by Rumunsko.
Witold Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra (completed in 1954) is one of his most approachable works. The timpani and double basses were forthright in their opening declarations, the ‘Intrada’ unfolded with cumulative power, strings assertive and taut to become a solid foundation for uninhibited brass and woodwinds. Equally arresting was the filigree string-playing in the ‘Capriccio notturno e Arioso’, chilling rather than impish with bi-tonal harmonies made wonderfully acute. Although there could have been greater urgency, Karabits ignited individual players, like fireflies. Double basses weren’t shy at the start of ‘Passacaglia, Toccata e Corale’, which built towards a ferocious climax despite tempos that never quite had you on the edge of your seat. That said the BSO was enjoying itself.