BBCSO/Karabits review – Ukraine speaks out through its music | Classical music

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra has announced that Kirill Karabits will step down next year after 15 years as chief conductor. He’ll become conductor laureate, focusing his concerts there on the music of his homeland, Ukraine. It’s repertoire that has featured regularly in his Bournemouth programmes throughout his tenure, and he included a sample of it in his guest appearance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The Third Symphony by Boris Lyatoshinsky is apparently the best-known work by a composer whose stature in Ukraine, according to Karabits, is similar to that of Sibelius’s in Finland.

Composed between 1948 and 1951, the Third Symphony carries the title “Peace Shall Defeat War”. It’s a noisy, bellicose piece, whose stylistic roots seem to stretch back into the 19th century as far as Mussorgsky. Violence and menace haunt all four movements, epitomised by a ubiquitous three-note motif, but even the big tune that emerges in the finale does not provide the catharsis and resolution that the title seems to demand. Nevertheless it was the finale that drew criticism from the Soviet authorities; Lyatoshinsky was accused of “bourgeois pacificism” and pressurised into revising it in 1954, so that the symphony’s “official” premiere did not take place until the following year, though Karabits opted to perform the original version.

Certainly the BBCSO played it magnificently for him, letting as much light and air into the congested textures as possible, and their performance was greeted with great enthusiasm. But the whole concert had Ukrainian connections, for the soloist in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto beforehand had been the Ukraine-born Anna Fedorova. There were a few moments in her performance when the co-ordination between soloist and orchestra seemed touch and go, but otherwise the performance flowed naturally enough, and Fedorova continued the Ukrainian theme in her encore, Valentin Silvestrov’s The Messenger, in which fragments of Mozart move in and out of focus, framed by spare, chilly chords.

Broadcast on Radio 3 on 17 January, and available for 30 days on BBC Sounds afterwards.

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