Photo, Mark Allan

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

Kirill Karabits conducted Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony during BBC Proms 2011, a disappointing performance beset by balance problems and an arm’s-length approach by the conductor. Something altogether more communicative and involving emerged on this 2023 occasion, immediately apparent in the Largo introduction, although the exposition (not repeated) was a little unyielding, less so in the recapitulation, with the development’s tempest and passions somewhat restricted, although thankfully no additions were made to the lower strings’ pay-off to the movement. The Scherzo was fiery, the second subject indulged beyond itself, the rest precisely purveyed and beguilingly detailed. Led off intimately by clarinettist Barry Deacon, the soulful slow movement flowed eloquently, with an emotional intensity yet spontaneity I don’t recall from twelve years ago, the coda poignantly turned, akin to the sun goeth down. The Finale veered between athletic vigour and richly moulded songlines – the twain not always meeting – yet the apotheosis was glorious and the rush to the finishing post invigorating.

The concert started with music by Karabits’s father, Ivan (1945-2002), the UK premiere of the first of his three Concertos for Orchestra, all recorded on Naxos by his son in Bournemouth. ‘A Musical Gift to Kyiv’ (1981) was written to mark the 1,500th-annivesary of the founding of the city, Ukraine’s capital. It’s an exuberant and celebratory piece (many appealing bell-like sounds), picturesque, a parade of colour, rhythm and lyrical suggestion, although when the twelve minutes are up, the fragmentary and fading end is a surprise.

Felix Klieser was born without arms. He plays the valves of the French horn with the toes of his left foot. In Mozart the results were consistently poised and shapely, an attractive tone produced to which a hunting timbre was added for the jaunty Finale (Flanders & Swann made their mark here, too), and there was another final movement as an encore, more E-flat Mozart, from the Concerto K417, bouncy and blissful as music, Klieser inspiring throughout in terms of rendition – no allowances need to be made – as to what can be achieved in adversity.