Wednesday 24 July 2019

Prom 4: The scope, symbolism and the sheer thrill of space travel was truly celebrated in a brilliant concert by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Kirill Karabits, his 11th year as its chief conductor

BBC Prom 4 - Kirill Karabits, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (Photo Chris Christoulou)
BBC Prom 4 - Kirill Karabits, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (Photo Chris Christoulou)
John Adams Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Samuel Barber Violin Concerto, Holst The Planets; Nemanja Radulović, Trinity Boys’ Choir, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Kirill Karabits; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on 21 July 2019 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Holst’s The Planets is a powerful and striking work and one that the Promenaders took to their hearts

Kiev-born Ukrainian conductor, Kirill Karabits, took charge of a marvellous BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall (21 July 2019) conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Trinity Boys’ Choir in a programme featuring John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto with Franco-Serbian violinist Nemanja Radulović as soloist and Holst’s The Planets.

A brilliant opening piece, John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine, first saw the light of day in 1986 performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Describing it as a ‘fanfare for orchestra’, Adams said of the work: ‘You know how it is when someone asks you to ride in a terrific sports car and then you wish you hadn’t?’ I’ve been there! A few years ago I took a trip in a fast car, the track car at the Goodwood Revival meeting. For sure, a short ride in a fast machine. In fact, the next Revival falls over the weekend of Friday 13th September.

BBC Prom 4 - Nemanja Radulović, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (Photo Chris Christoulou)
BBC Prom 4 - Nemanja Radulović,
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (Photo Chris Christoulou)
Short Ride was scheduled to be performed a couple of times at the Last Night of the Proms but, unfortunately, had to be cancelled because of its title: in 1997 following the death of Princess Diana and in 2001 in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. However, it was first heard at a BBC Proms concert on Saturday 24th July 2004 and a decade later returned for another run round the block that is Kensington Gore on Thursday 4th September 2014.

A performance to chalk up, members of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra raced full throttle to the very last bar of Short Ride with every section of this fine orchestra - ranging from fiery percussion to screaming brass with tuba and trombones giving that extra bit of downforce - contributing so much to make Adams’ pulsating four-minute work a great ‘opener’ and a stunning and exciting piece to hear especially in the confines of the Royal Albert Hall’s vast auditorium.

Taking the heat out of the kitchen fell to Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto which came to fruition through a commission in 1939 from the Philadelphia industrialist, Samuel Simeon Fels, for Isaak (Iso) Briselli, a Russian Ukrainian-born violinist, who graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music the same year as Barber.

Having reservations about the work, Briselli complained that the technical embellishments were far removed from the requirements of a modern-day violinist and he considered that the first two movements not to be of virtuosic character and by performing them as written would have severely damaged his reputation. He also requested Barber to rewrite the third movement to explore more of the virtuosic side of the violin’s capabilities.

Despite constant nagging, Barber was dismissive of Briselli’s unwelcome suggestions and declined his request but was sorry not to have given him what he had hoped for. Despite their disagreement, the two men remained good friends until the composer’s death in 1981.

It was in the spring of 1940 that Herbert Baumel (a gifted violin student at the Curtis Institute) performed it with the Curtis Institute Orchestra under Fritz Reiner. The violinist learnt the finale - whom Briselli had said was too difficult to play - in about two hours.

This enlightened performance, though, brought the piece to the attention of Eugene Ormandy who quickly scheduled its official première by Chicago-born violinist, Albert Spalding, with the Philadelphia Orchestra in February 1941. A successful performance, it was quickly followed by another at Carnegie Hall thus putting this 20th-century violin concerto on the road to fame and fortune.

It was first heard at the Proms in June 1944 receiving its UK première by the sadly short-lived British virtuoso, Eda Kersey, and was not heard again at the Proms until Ralph Homes performed it with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1976 under Edward Downes. Then a quartet of international superstars took to the Royal Albert Hall’s famous stage to perform it: Joshua Bell (1997), Midori (2002), James Ehnes (2007) and Gil Shaham (2010). And now Franco-Serbian violinist, Nemanja Radulović, can add his name to this impressive list whilst also making his Proms début.

And what a début! Playing on an 1843 violin by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, he dug deep into the concerto’s rich and compelling score delivering a riveting and stylish cadenza in the first movement whilst the show-stopping last (and fast) movement was, hey presto, played to perfection in a grandiose and rewarding performance that won not only the hearts of the attentive and adoring regiment of Promenaders set before him but of the whole house as well. As an encore, Mr Radulović delivered a Serbian folk-themed piece performed with a coterie of string members from the BSO. It found him in extravagant mood enjoying every minute.

Composed from 1914 to 1916 in one of the darkest periods in Great British history, Holst’s The Planets (a seven-movement orchestral suite) received its première on 29th September 1918 at the Queen’s Hall, London, before an invited audience of about 250 people, conducted by Adrian Boult. The first complete public performance was also given in London by Albert Coates conducting the London Symphony Orchestra on 15th November 1920.

Although The Planets remains Holst’s most popular work, the composer himself did not count it among his best creations and later in life complained that its popularity had completely surpassed his other works. But saying that, he was partial to ‘Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age’ - his favourite movement. Holst conducted a complete performance for the first time at a Prom with the Queen’s Hall Orchestra on 13th October 1923.

A work of great popularity, the work was thrillingly and energetically played by the BSO firmly in control by Kirill Karabits especially the opening movement ‘Mars, the Bringer of War’ with Maestro Karabits bringing out the orchestral tone and colour of this wonderful movement so emphatically.

And ‘Uranus, the Magician’ - opening with a quartet of rich-sounding brass-filled notes - was powerfully delivered while the movement that followed and the final contribution to The Planets - ‘Neptune, the Mystic’ - featured the ethereal-sounding voices of Trinity Boys’ Choir portraying so sensitively and hauntingly the music of the spheres thus bringing to an end a rewarding and convincing performance that made this Prom so memorable especially to the couple sitting next to me who have never attended a Prom before. Good for them!

The concert is available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days
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