Lacking symphonic tension

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra | Wessex Hall, Poole
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The Independent Culture

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's new season opened on Wednesday, as the brochure put it, "on a grand scale, with two magnificent works conveying praise and joy". Yet even the delights of Bruckner's Te Deum and Beethoven's "Choral" Symphony could not dispel all the worrying thoughts about this orchestra's current state.

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's new season opened on Wednesday, as the brochure put it, "on a grand scale, with two magnificent works conveying praise and joy". Yet even the delights of Bruckner's Te Deum and Beethoven's "Choral" Symphony could not dispel all the worrying thoughts about this orchestra's current state.

Michael Henson, the BSO's Managing Director, is talking up the present situation, which at least seems stronger than it was a year ago, when the Symphony Orchestra's sister ensemble, the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, was dispatched with unseemly haste.

But the latest turn on the wretched treadmill of justifying themselves to the Arts Council is presently at a crucial stage. Like other regional orchestras, the BSO awaits the response, expected mid-November, to their bid on the Council's Recovery Programme scheme, successor to the Stabilisation scheme which ended up putting Bournemouth in at least as much hot water as it had been in before.

Then there's the now pressing matter of choosing a new Principal Conductor to succeed Yakov Kreizberg, who tendered his resignation over a year ago and departed this summer. Henson and his team will not be drawn on what is evidently an ongoing selection procedure, though an announcement early next year seems likely. Even so, the new man - or will it be a woman? - may not take up the post until 2002, leaving a hiatus potentially damaging for any orchestra.

The contenders apparently include the Americans Hugh Wolff and Marin Alsop (a woman), the Finn Osmo Vanska and, surprisingly, English National Opera's Paul Daniel. My current money is on Hugh Wolff.

They evidently do not include Jiri Kout, who began the BSO's season. Though praised for his Bartered Bride at Glyndebourne last year, this Czech conductor couldn't turn either the Bruckner or the Beethoven into an experience to treasure. In the "Choral" Symphony, woodwind and brass were often characterful, but the orchestra's string-playing - thin-toned and sometimes undisciplined on Wednesday, despite the Kreizberg years - must be top of any new Principal Conductor's list for attention. And despite moments of inspiration, Kout's approach lacked real symphonic tension.

It was, however, good to feature the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus so prominently: despite an average age which seems to verge on the pensionable, and too few men, Neville Creed's choir is capable of strong attack and a bright tone. Yet the Te Deum was a rather odd choice for the dry Wessex Hall, and Kout's unimaginative shaping drained most of the magic out of Bruckner's paean.

Both here and in the "Choral" Symphony, the quartet of vocal soloists - Claire Rutter, Sally Bruce-Payne, Gwyn Hughes Jones and Matthew Best - proved sadly undistinguished. It is disappointing to discover mainly young singers displaying such a blowsy tone, giant vibrato, insecure intonation and lack of attention to words and phrasing. And it was quite shocking to hear Best, Scottish Opera's new Wotan, make such a wussy attempt at the baritone's great invocation in the finale of Beethoven's Ninth.

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