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Orchestral Excellence

I was at the Colston Hall, Bristol yesterday for the third of three orchestral concerts, each of which featured a violin concerto. I wrote about the first on November 14th : an intense performance of the Sibelius by Henning Kraggerud, with the Halle Orchestra, which in the days of John Barbirolli, was an early champion of that composer. On the second occasion it was the Brahms concerto, again performed by a woman soloist, Arabella Steinbacher, playing with great strength and golden tone. The orchestra was The Philharmonia, and Charles Dutoit, for many years associated with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, was the conductor. In the programme notes I see the orchestra describes itself has ‘having the greatest claim to be the U.K.’s National Orchestra’.

I was thinking of that audacious suggestion last night when we heard the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto played with appropriate passion but an unusually restrained delicacy for this popular warhorse, by Ilya Gringolts who also presented a sensational pyrotechnic display on the violin as an encore.

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra – making no claim to be anything other than a first class ensemble – played with precise attack and opulent sound under its newly appointed conductor, the Ukranian, Kirill Karabits. A slight figure with a no-nonsense attitude on the rostrum, Karabits seems to be in worthy succession to such predecessors as Marin Alsop and Andrew Litton, though perhaps as yet lacking their charisma. Talking with two of the players who I happened to meet later, I gathered that he has already a good rapport with the orchestra.

But back to this claim of the Philharmonia. Of course it is a fine body of musicians. From 1945 when Walter Legge founded it, mainly as a recording orchestra, to the days of Otto Klemperor, and then its rebirth as a self-governing orchestra in 1964 it has been one of our finest and, it seems, most proud orchestras.

But there are at least a dozen fine orchestras in the U.K. I was listening to one on TV the other evening, The London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by their newly appointed Director, Valery Gergiev in a powerful and deeply moving performance of Mahler’s 2nd ‘Resurrection Symphony. The orchestra describes itself as ‘widely regarded as one of the world’s leading orchestras’. And so it is.

I suppose I have a bias against the suggestion that the London orchestras are peers of the realm. Although much of my early love for music was nurtured in London’s Barbican, Royal Albert and Festival Halls, wonderful evenings listening to the City of Birmingham Orchestra, many recordings of the Halle and now listening to the Bournemouth Orchestra, have taught me otherwise.

So, no U.K. ‘national’ orchestra; just a cornucopia of excellent ones!

B.R.

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