Classical: Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov: Bournemouth SO / Kreizberg Winter Gardens, Bournemouth

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The Independent Culture
'It's a Classic FM night, really," said someone just a shade sniffily. After a couple of hours of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, it was hard to disagree, as we lay back and thought of England while "Nimrod", from Elgar's Enigma Variations, was played with almost Bernstein-like indulgence as an encore. And if we wanted to be really sniffy, there was also the venue. Bournemouth's Winter Gardens has an honourable place in the history of the town's orchestra and has a surprisingly decent acoustic, too. But right now it's a dilapidated and seedy apology for a concert hall, awaiting lottery money for a refit.

If, however, you think all this means a night out with an orchestra still sounding like it's just off the pier, think again. The programming reflected the BSO's wish to offer Bournemouth two of the main attractions on its forthcoming tour of the USA, which starts this weekend. And the main reason this orchestra can embark on its second American tour in three years - also taking cello concertos by Dutilleux and Elgar (with soloist Lynn Harrell) and Judith Bingham's recent, engaging The Temple at Karnak - with every prospect of even greater success, is that it's playing better than ever under the dynamic Yakov Kreizberg.

Technically, Kreizberg must be among the best in the business, and he is evidently an excellent orchestral trainer. When he came two years ago, he seemed a very cool customer. Yet that "Nimrod" encore was actually the fall-out from a surprisingly compelling Enigma he conducted last October. Now here were Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov with not only the razor-sharp accuracy for which Kreizberg is famous, but also an urgent identification with this music that it was hard not to connect with his own national origins.

The Pathetique Symphony is scarcely natural first-half material, but the BSO plunged in with a passion. Typical of Kreizberg's precision now also yielding immediacy of communication was the treatment of the violin pizzicati near the start of the second movement: really just an accompaniment to the winds' theme, but here lovingly shaped. In the third movement, Kreizberg shot his bolt rather early: perhaps partly the consequence, this time, of too much underlining of dynamics and phrasing. If he was trying to make this march more sinister than usual, it didn't quite come off. But the slow, desolate finale felt propelled by a more intuitive- sounding grasp of structure and message.

Rachmaninov's Second Symphony began less well, with a ponderous introduction and, in the succeeding Allegro moderato, another case of too much too soon, as well as some surprisingly stodgy ritardandi. The second movement was more incisively played, and the slow movement's architecture finely judged, with a nicely unaffected clarinet solo from Kevin Banks. In the finale, any indulgences were put aside in an especially good demonstration of how compelling such music can be when it's not pulled about. Rachmaninov himself, after all, was also said to smile but rarely on the platform, and his playing could be almost rigid. East-coast American audiences are in for a treat.