Authority, Dexterity and Drama: Echoes of Home with the BSO

Image courtesy of BSO.

Community reporter, Paul Valentine, reviews the recent Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) performance, Echoes of Home, conducted by Jamie Phillips and starring pianist Denis Kozhukhin.

The concert comprised performances of Smetana – Vltava (Ma Vlast), Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No 1, and Sibelius – Symphony No 1.

Smetana’s symphonic poem coursing the history of the great river that flows through the now Czech Republic is undoubtedly a great orchestral loosener, in that it is a wonderfully orchestrated piece that pretty much contains everything. It was also wonderful to see the harp in the centre of the orchestra. Though finely interpreted and well played, this performance lacked something for me, and after some thought, I could only come up with two words: ‘conviction’ and ‘immediacy’, something to anchor this piece very definitely north or south of Prague.

The Tchaikovsky was different, packed to bursting with both confidence and conviction. As though starting a battle, Kozhukhin played like Alexander, knowing that he would eventually win and win in some style. It is not possible to play this concerto without authority, dexterity and drama, and this rendition was overflowing with them all; it was wonderfully virtuosic, and supported with superb intensity from Phillips and the BSO. There was fantastic balance and absolute brilliance at times with Kozhukhin shuffling around on the stool like a man possessed. It was feisty, zesty, pithy, full of flavour and intensely satisfying like the folk tune echoes of Russia from whence it derived. Finally, the applause duly brought on an encore of a Bach prelude that was so beautifully played.

Image of Denis Kozhukhin courtesy of BSO.

The Sibelius 1 was my least favourite – until tonight. Phillips dealt so well with that rather strange ‘echo energico’ after a fascinatingly haunting opening clarinet solo. I was hooked and from there it just got better and better as the movements unfolded. The second movement was a tonal wonderland; a little quick in places but absolutely right for this quest for the spirit of Finnish lakes and forests. The third movement had the brilliance of a precise tempo with glimpses of wonderful Finnish landscape but also included mocking Beethovenesque like musical jokes presumably aimed at the Russian masters. The fourth movement was utterly exceptional; deft, precise, and at times just immense. The philosophy of the piece came across so well, with the heartache of oppression bringing tears to the eyes. It was at times brutish and intensely lyrical in equal measure. Again, I am not going to mention any standouts for fear of missing anyone, all were absolutely exceptional. But the conductor does need some mention – he is without doubt extremely gifted, has an embracing style and was utterly self effacing in deflecting applause to the players.

Truly, a remarkable and memorable evening.


The BSO returns to Portsmouth Guildhall on 9th May with Czech Mates. For more information and to see all forthcoming performances at the Guildhall, see their website, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.