Review: ‘Backward Glimpses’ with the BSO

Jacek Kaspszyk, image courtesy of Wright Music Management.

Community reporter, Paul Valentine, reviews the recent Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) performance, Backwards Glimpses, at Portsmouth Guildhall on 24th January 2019, conducted by Jacek Kaspszyk.

I mused during this performance on the irony that is current concert-going, at least outside of the major cities. I had read earlier that the London Symphony Orchestra is number four of the ‘World’s Best 10 Symphony Orchestras’, just behind the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras. In the list the London SO was described as follows:

This is an orchestra that is known for its impressive work ethic aside from its snappy style and excellent precision.

During the BSO’s performance, those words came back to me because they perfectly describe the BSO and ‘Backwards Glimpses’, performed under the baton of guest conductor Jacek Kaspszyk (pictured above), a former Director of the Polish National Opera, and Music & Artistic Director of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra.

As a guest conductor, one of the clear difficulties is the limited rehearsal time. The better the orchestra, the easier it is to stitch rehearsal elements together. But no matter how good the orchestra, it is the conductor’s job to get the most out of it. Kaspszyk did this wonderfully. For me, this was a Maestro performance.

There were three pieces in the programme; Ravel’s impressive ‘Valses nobles et sentimental’,Saint-Saen’s ‘Piano Concerto No 2’  and the underrated Rachmaninov ‘Symphonic Dances’. The Ravel piece mirrored in many ways the ease with which Kaspszyk managed this superb orchestra. Ravel was a perfectionist hoarder of past material, and the ease of his music upon the ear belies the tortuous process his memory endured in the recalling and noting of memorised material. Kaspszyk led us into the timeless beauty of these waltzes with syncopated elegance and tight rhythmic control. Special mention to Anna Pyne, principal flautist, who perfectly described the languidness of summer.

As with the first piece, the second was flawless, which for Saint-Seans was no mean feat. I jested to a fellow reviewer that I had my doubts that pianist Benjamin Grosvenor was actually human, believing him to be, like the driver-less car, ‘android’-based. His performance was absolutely outstanding. The interplay between piano and orchestra was rather like the Beethoven 4 at times – not least in the musical jokery. Both change in tempo and forte were delicious and appeared instinctive – this was all impresario stuff; truly ‘amazeballs’, as my son would say.

The Symphonic Dances, Rachmaninov’s last completed work, is a reflection on a lifetime’s influences set in the realm of fantasy. Like Beethoven, Rachmaninov had an acute sense of rhythm and developed many rhythmic innovations, some of which are represented in this wonderful piece. The whole orchestra played the Symphonic Dances like a clipper ship easing through the tremendous waves of each chord with consummate ease. The pianist, harpist and saxophonist deserve special mention, as do the woodwind generally. The final tarantella, although superbly orchestrated, is, like many of Rachmaninov’s symphonic pieces, extremely difficult to play well, and demands huge concentration. The BSO achieved the breathtaking climax with room to spare.

But to my final musing of the performance: at the very time the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra seems to be getting better and better, the auditorium is devoid of young people. Maybe we should set up a partnership group in Portsmouth to see how we can encourage more young people to experience the wonder and thrill of classical music.

And so, finally, to a ‘backwards glimpse’ of my own – my ‘baptism’ into orchestral music. It occurred when my parents bought a new stereogram that came with some free albums they never played. On my own one evening, I sneaked one of them on (I was not allowed to use it unsupervised). It was Rimsky Korsakov’s ‘Scheherazade’.

I have never looked back since.

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra programme continues at the Guildhall on 8th February with BSO: Natural Beauty. For more information and to see all forthcoming performances at the Guildhall, see their website, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Image of Jacek Kaspszyk, courtesy of Wright Music Management.