The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor Kirill Karabits comes from Ukraine, and during his tenure on the south coast he has made a point of programming lesser-known works from countries in the former Soviet Union under the banner of Voices from the East. He’s already introduced pieces by Karayev, Terterian and Lyatoshinsky, and in the second concert in an autumn series given before a distanced audience and streamed live, he was due to conduct two more, by Théodore Akimenko and Alexander Arutiunian. Covid-19 restrictions, however, prevented Karabits from travelling to Poole, but Martyn Brabbins replaced him, taking over the programme without any changes.
One of those rarities at least was a real discovery. The Ukraine-born Akimenko is best remembered as Stravinsky’s first composition teacher. But on the evidence of his elegant, rather haunting “poéme nocturne”, Angel, based on a poem by Lermontov and shaped by Brabbins with immense care, he was also a quietly distinctive late-Romantic voice, whose music sometimes echoes his own teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, and also suggests parallels with Scriabin.
Certainly there’s a lot more to it than there is to Arutiunian’s Trumpet Concerto, an empty, flashy piece, larded with tunes from his native Armenia and ticking all the boxes you’d expect from a composer who became part of the Soviet musical establishment. The soloist was the BSO’s principal trumpet Chris Avison, who met the concerto’s considerable technical challenges with more brilliance and panache than the piece probably deserves.
The symphony that completed the concert maintained its theme, too. Tchaikovsky’s Second Symphony is nicknamed the “Little Russian” because it incorporates songs he heard on a visit to Ukraine, which was then known as Little Russia. An extrovert, thoroughly likable piece, it’s easily the least fraught of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, and Brabbins and the orchestra made sure they conveyed every bit of its energy and good humour.