Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra: Melodic Alchemy Concert Friday 4th November at The Hall for Cornwall, Truro

The newly vamped Hall for Cornwall with its emphasis on wood and granite – so much wood that the whole venue has a woody scent – has a lovely interior but is arguably better for drama than for concerts. The acoustics in the stalls where I sat were wonderful, though apparently not quite so good in the circle, and the only pity was that I could only see the ranks of strings while the other instruments were invisible. Of course I could hear them – the harp, brass, woodwind and percussion, all emerging from behind a sea of busy strings – but it would have been nice to watch them too. That is of course not a criticism of the concert but of the architectural planners of the new venue who created a rather flat platform.

The concert began with the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, such a familiar piece but so magical when experienced live. Written in the form we know it towards the end of his life, this quickly became one of Tchaikovsky’s most well-loved works. It is not a linear story-in-music of Shakespeare’s tragedy but rather an exploration of the main themes of the work. First comes the pivotal well-meaning advice of Friar Laurence, which kick-starts the tragedy, shown by sonorous deep bass notes against sweet wind instruments and harp underlined by pizzicato strings. The roll of a drum presages a speedier passage depicting the hostility between the Montagues and Capulets. Violent stabbing chords on the strings, interspersed with hurrying notes, paint pictures for the audience. The love theme between Romeo and Juliet asserts itself here and, after a second more violent battle between the two warring families, it is that theme which swells and proclaims the victory of love despite human folly and hatred and the tragic death of the lovers. However familiar this piece is its immersive quality when live adds a new magic.

Part of the magic was the way conductor Chloe van Soeterstede dipped and danced in an almost balletic harmony with the piece. More than many conductors I have seen in action her whole body and especially the fluidity of her hands and arms added to the magical feel of the evening.

In the second piece, Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1, the connection between violin soloist Tobias Feldmann and this special conductor, was wonderful. Here was another musician who entered into his playing with his entire body so that the pair of them bent and swayed close together as if dancing.
The orchestra created a background to the soloist that never impinged but swelled and dipped to allow the soaring notes of the violin to predominate. It was a triumphant showing, sometimes plaintive, sometimes passionate, often playful and joyous, taking us into the well-known second movement and out the other side into the passionate third movement, which rises on a crescendo, faster and faster to a flourishing triumphant finish.

After a short interval the final piece was Dvorak’s Symphony No 7, a work I am ashamed to say I was not familiar with though I am with many other of his works, especially his folk dances and his chamber orchestra pieces. Needless to say, after being carried through this fine work on a gorgeous, and sometimes threatening, pillow of sound, I have remedied this by ordering a CD of it instantly! This is Dvorak at his most mighty and very finely rendered by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
It starts ominously and slowly, using low registers, until the oboe breaks in with a lovely tune. Still, the feeling is of something about to happen and it does: a pretty rural theme which expands to suggest a vista of woods, birds and a folksy tune, suggestive of those that live there. The rural scene gives way to something more ominous again and the first movement ends with muted brass on a devastating note.
The second movement begins with a folk tune from the clarinet and goes on to reassure us with the warm tones of mellow brass instruments which give way to the woodwind offering tunes of hope, and these in turn ignite the strings into assertions of joy and peace.

The third movement is full of Dvorak’s wonderful take on his native folk dances, starting strong and assertive and then taking on a different flavour, teasing, the different instruments playing a kind of hide and seek until the chase builds to a climax and ends on a held unresolved note.

The last movement is full of strong ominous tunes with swooping crescendos, shouting brass, strongly rhythmic chords and unison sections which build and build to a climax. Changes of rhythm and pace take us to the end with a series of skidding swoops settling to a satisfying finale.

Throughout all three works the dynamics were beautifully managed and there was a strong feeling of unity between the various sections of the orchestra and the conductor which was highly noticeable. Congratulations to all.

This article was previously published on Lark Reviews.