Bborn in 1876 in Kharkiv, north-eastern Ukraine, Fyodor Akimenko is best known as the first teacher of harmony and composition of the teenager Igor Stravinsky. Akimenko himself had been one of Rimsky-Korsakov’s favorite pupils, and in the first decades of the 20th century he worked as a composer, pianist and choirmaster in several European countries before settling permanently in France. , where he died in 1945. After his death, his archives ended up in the National Library in Paris, and that is where Kirill Karabits unearthed the complete score of a cello concerto that Akimenko had composed in 1922, but which, for unknown reasons, had never been performed.
Karabits intended to conduct the first performance of the work in Kharkiv earlier this year, but the Russian invasion put an end to that, and so he became the centerpiece of the concert with which he opened the new season of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Victor Julien Laferriere was the soloist, and two violinists from the orchestra that was to give the premiere in Kharkiv joined the BSO for the concert.
Lasting just over a quarter of an hour, the three-movement concerto is a modest piece. Its musical language is late romantic, due perhaps more to Tchaikovsky than to any other composer, and the solo cello is mostly lyrical rather than showy, the central andante being its expressive center of gravity. In the dry acoustics of Le Phare, the balance was sometimes problematic, the cello line being regularly overwhelmed by the orchestra, but whether by reluctance on Julien-Laferrière’s part or by miscalculation in the score, it was hard to judge.
Karabits had started the concert with the first Stravinskys, the Scherzo Fantastique, oscillating between a Russian version of a Mendelssohnian scherzo and anticipations of the magical world of The Firebird composed barely three years later, and he completed it with Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. In their very different ways, outstanding performances, Stravinsky’s fleetness and transparency, the symphony conducted flawlessly by Karabits and featuring outstanding soloist contributions, particularly from the orchestra’s main horn, alexander wide. But above all, they underlined how much the BSO is a beautiful ensemble today.