Local-election results may have caused a stir on this day but there was nothing provincial about the exotica on offer at The Anvil: French, Russian and Spanish-flavoured music from an American conductor and Franco-Russian violinist; together with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (from neighbouring Dorset), they sedated, seduced and scintillated.
Some of these qualities were apparent in the Debussy. Anna Pyne’s mellifluous flute solo initiated an account that underlined the torpor inhabiting the imaginary world of Mallarmé’s fauns. An all-too measured tempo, at times pedestrian, Gaffigan ensured plenty of languor, but a little more life within the phrases would have created the subtle magic and rarefied atmosphere that prompted Ravel to declare that Faune is “the only music I know which is absolutely perfect.”
Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole brought out the best from the BSO and Alexandra Soumm, who brought bags of personality and lush tone to these five movements, given an authoritative, red-blooded account, characterised by fiery passion and poetic tenderness. Pyrotechnics were dispatched with élan, rhythms were incisive, and beauty of sound deepened the elegiac quality of the fourth movement. Best of all was the Finale in which well-judged speeds and sensitive support enabled Soumm to be at her most flamboyant, dashing off those alarming bars of trills and open-string pizzicatos with ease.
The Arabian tales of Rimsky-Korsakov’s lavishly scored Scheherazade set off with an expansive tempo, its stern manner producing striking contrast for leader Amyn Merchant’s eloquent contribution. Gaffigan drew intense playing that perfectly caught the surge and swell of the sea, and in the second movement (‘The Tale of the Kalendar Prince’) the tempo-changes were navigated with care and built to a fine head of steam. ‘The Young Prince and the Young Princess’ was enriched by silky clarinet-playing and a central passage of exquisite sonorities, while rhythmic articulation was to the fore in the festive Finale, the BSO responding superbly to Gaffigan’s invigorating direction with colour, energy and Eastern promise.
- Two days previously, this programme was played at Lighthouse, Poole, and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, including a Soumm encore not played at The Anvil