Review: A Triumphant Return to Pompey for the BSO

BSO Concert Season 2018/19. Photo Credit: Eric Richmond, supplied by Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Community reporter, Paul Valentine, reviews the recent Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) performance, Beethoven Five, at the opening concert of their returning programme at the Guildhall.

All is marketing these days, but not in terms of programming protocol. I have a feeling that if the concert had started with the Beethoven and ended with the Chopin, the evening would have have been an outstanding success. I have a theory about this, but back to the opening concert of the BSO at the Guildhall. Parry’s Symphonic Variations are absolutely sumptuous and Frank Zielhorst brought out the flavours of this gorgeous piece to delight the ears and imagination. This is a perfect piece for Portsmouth with its allusion to the sea, clipper ships, and all things nautical; indeed, looking up at the embossed Guildhall ceiling artistry topped off this dynamic and (in spite of its detractors) well-orchestrated piece. It was superbly conducted and exquisitely played.

Chopin’s first piano concerto was equally well-rehearsed and there were passages and phrases of pure brilliance from both pianist, bassoonist, french horn and strings. It was difficult in the end to separate the masterful lyricism of the orchestra with the scintillating and virtuosic performance of the pianist; but in truth some of the playing defied physics so the French Pianist Kim Barbier gets the nod, as does the BSO in securing her for the programme.

Back to the Beethoven. Zielhorst entered stage left, zoomed on to the podium and started the piece even before the audience had stopped clapping. Mean spirited? Superstitious? Or a contrived way of dealing with those pesky opening three bars? Whatever the answer, there was no gainsaying the fact that this was quick. The first movement was breathtakingly fast and consequently devoid of the nuance and subtlety that made the Chopin so effective. The second movement in contrast was exceptional; the beauty of it shone through with cutting eloquence, right to the bittersweet end. There followed an overlong pause whilst Frank Zielhorst prepared himself for the coming onslaught, which in many ways seemed ironic given the frantic start. We were then thrust back to speed and dexterity rather than rhythm and reflection. The finale, though admirable in the joyousness of its victory, left the audience wondering who or what was the adversary.

And so, back to my theory. There is no doubt in my mind that Frank Zielhorst covered all the bases with respect to tradition and historical integrity, although at times I did feel that the strings were right on the edge of being able to deliver at such speed. While audience members were probably used to the symphonic excesses of the seventies with such bastions of celebrity impresarios as Klemperer and Karajan, I do wonder if slowing the pace a little, would have achieved more pathos?

All in all, this was a great start from the much-loved BSO in Pompey, and great to see them back for another season (with a hat tip to continuing grant funding from Portsmouth City Council in the current funding climate for the arts). I cannot wait to see how Gernon deals with the soft and delicious Bruch Violin Concerto together with the ‘intensity’ of the Rachmaninov 2 in the Masters of Melody performance on 18th October.

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra programme continues at the Guildhall on 18th October with the Masters of Melody. For more information and to see all forthcoming performances at the Guildhall, see their website, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.