Burgeoning English talent and sepia-tinged nobilmente framed exotic panoramas from across the seas in an evening of mixed performances where grandeur was glimpsed but seldom revealed.
The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Kirill Karabits got off to a zesty start, bringing out the youthful spontaneity and vibrant detail of Froissart – Elgar’s first major orchestral work (1890) and remarkable, considering the composer was self-taught, for its instrumental command. Karabits drew out plenty of clarity and atmosphere in an account coloured by warmth of string tone, its surging momentum crowned by a rousing coda (with ripe trombone input), the whole redolent of the courtly valour and chivalrous endeavour central to its inspiration.
Following the interval, and by contrast, Elgar’s First Symphony was disappointing, its emotional depths largely unexplored and its magnificence suggested but never wholly grasped. There was something just a little perfunctory about the first movement and, despite much promise, constituent parts lacked connective logic. The Scherzo was brutally mechanistic, hanging together by a thread and played with grim intensity, its hectic drama yielding to introspection in the Adagio, though tenderness was withheld until strings and clarinet provided much-needed intimacy. A robust Finale delivered triumph rather than elation to this hard-driven and sometimes-uplifting account.
Saint-Saëns’s ‘Egyptian’ Piano Concerto (1896) is more of a musical travelogue, its Javanese, Middle Eastern and Spanish flavours woven into its stylistically far-reaching fabric and its misleading nickname, the result of the work’s conception in Luxor – one of many destinations the composer visited during the winter months. For his final essay in the genre Karabits and Lucas Debargue forged a convincing partnership marrying Saint-Saëns’s characteristic romantic impulse and classical restraint.
The opening Allegro animato was a shapely, well-balanced affair, in which the wealth of melodic material was crisply articulated, its elegance and brilliance finely integrated into a flowing and naturally evolving account to which Debargue variously brought polish and bombast, rarely dominating but always holding attention. We were whisked off to sunny climes for the Andante, its gamelan-influenced sonorities arresting the ear, as much as arabesque figurations from the piano. Decorative woodwind and voluptuous string-tone added to the heat-soaked atmosphere, fantasy fully realised. So too “the joy of a sea-crossing” that Saint-Saëns wished to convey in the Finale – its unbuttoned, breezy and life-affirming splendour superbly caught, the BSO sensitive and lively collaborators to Debargue, whose formidable technique came to the fore in a tumultuous volley of octaves in the closing bars. A Sonata by Scarlatti brought a further reminiscence of Spain in Debargue’s encore.