There are those - or at least there is one - who would dismiss almost all our regional symphony orchestras as eking out a feeble existence in a "marshland of orchestral mediocrity". Such phrases might make attention-grabbing copy, but those who bother to go and listen to any of these hardworking bands know differently.
At least the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) has never been accused, as was one orchestra by this same source last year, of making "a noise like a pup in a sack of leeks". Under Yakov Kreizberg, the BSO did sterling work in the late 1990s, and, though financial difficulties and an unfortunate hiatus in the hiring of Kreizberg's successor didn't help morale or playing standards, the American conductor Marin Alsop is now in her third season as principal conductor.
This programme of Russian music showed that she continues to make a difference. Most obvious is the improvement in the BSO's weakest link - its string section. With the help of the leader Duncan Riddell, Alsop - a violinist - has evidently worked hard on the technique and sound of the strings. Borodin's Prince Igor Overture and Polovtsian Dances gave us an immediate opportunity to admire their warmer, richer tone, despite the absence of the ideal Russian-flavoured élan.
Simon Trpceski seems to be playing Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto the length and breadth of the land. His helter-skelter, yet alertly nuanced, reading, vividly projected with uncommon - indeed uncanny - clarity, had orchestra and audience on the edge of their seats. The BSO players and Alsop managed to keep up with him in the lethal first movement, doing rather better than the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the Barbican a few weeks ago.
Stravinsky is a featured composer in the orchestra's season, and it was his The Rite of Spring, as well as Trpceski's Prokofiev, that brought a large audience to this concert. Alsop is unlikely to have disappointed them in this well-rehearsed account - with a considerably expanded band - of one of the seminal works and orchestral showpieces of the 20th century.
Yet her performance was more notable for its vigour and precision than for atmosphere or subtlety. Incisive woodwind playing and a large horn section that could be grippingly spot-on were just two of the many things to admire here. But from Peter Whelan's somewhat bland rendition of the famous opening bassoon solo to the slow music that precedes the final blast of the "Sacrificial Dance", this account lacked the magic that the work should really generate.
Alsop is, nevertheless, the best thing that has happened to the BSO in quite some while; the orchestra should negotiate hard to keep her beyond 2006. Meanwhile, a wider audience can enjoy the stream of recordings which the partnership is producing: next up, Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin.
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