Monday 20 February 2017

Diverse and engaging: Alina Ibragimova and the Scottish Ensemble

Scottish Ensemble
Scottish Ensemble
Mendelssohn, Pärt, Hartmann, Vasks, Bach; Alina Ibragimova, Scottish Ensemble, Jonathan Morton; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 18 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Two contrasting violin concertos form the centrepiece of a fascinating programme

The Scottish Ensemble, artistic director Jonathan Morton, brought a diverse programme to the Wigmore Hall on Saturday 18 February 2017, centred on a pair of violin concertos played by Alina Ibragimova, Bach's Violin Concerto in E major, BWV1042 and Karl Amadeus Harmann's wartime masterpiece Concerto Funebre. The Scottish Ensemble played two of Mendelssohn's early string symphonies plus Arvo Pärt's Silouan's Song and Peteris Vasks' Viatore.

The Scottish Ensemble began each half with Mendelssohn, the three movement String Symphony No. 6 in E flat (from 1821 when Mendelssohn was 12), and No. 10 in B minor (from 1823). Though these are remarkable works for a teenager, once you have got over the composer's young age and spotted the influences, and traces of the mature Mendelssohn, the pieces very much rely on the performers to sell them. And this the Scottish Ensemble did, playing with vivid presence, great engagement and liveliness.

The contrast with Pärt's Silouan's Song, which followed in the first half, could not have been greater. Made from a few simple building blocks and a great deal of silence, the piece received a performance which was very intent even in the passages which were barely there. And the quality of the group's silences was amazing.

The first half finished with Karl Amadeus Hartmann's Concerto Funebre, written originally in 1939 and revised in 1959. The work presents an elegiac lament which is anything but understated. Alina Ibragimova, playing from memory gave a stunningly committed performance. Fearless in the more virtuoso passages, yet always profoundly intense, a highly speaking reading which made the soloist's dialogues with the orchestra something visceral.

Describing the work as an elegiac lament could make it seem reticent and elegantly melancholy, but this was anything but. The Scottish Ensemble matched Ibragimova's sense of vivid presence, to create a stunningly intent performance. Particularly notable was the final Choral, starting slow and intense and developing into something really passionate, it was a shame that the over-abbreviated programme note omitted to inform us that this was based on a funeral march for the victims of the Russian revolution. The ending fined down to almost nothing, followed by just one terrible chord.

After Mendelssohn's String Symphony No. 10 to open the second half, the Scottish Ensemble played Peteris Vasks' Viatore. The piece tells the story of wanderer whose journeying is illuminated by the starry universe. Vasks constructs the piece from two 'sound images' which alternate, the one (the universe) remaining constant the other (the traveller) growing and developing. So the piece opened with a high, aetherial passage, with a descending figure emerging and leading to a strikingly expressive phrase on cellos and double basses only. As the piece progressed the high aetherial phrase remained constant, but the descending phrase led to a constantly developing expressive phrase which gre from just cellos and basses to a very full passionate tutti. Roughly arch shaped (birth, life, death?), the piece ended almost as it began. The result was very intriguing with some magical textures

The concert ended with Bach's E minor violin concerto. Starting crisp, vibrant and very present, Ibragimova emerged from the ensemble strings without being over-spotlit. Fast fluid and very engaging, the performance was not entirely historically informed, but though in the first movement there was minimal vibrato and not too much in the way of Romantic gestures. In the second, the performance had great lyric beauty, though Ibragimova's interpretation here was quite Romantic at times but extremely lovely, and certainly not overly self-indulgent. The final movement was vibrant and full of energy, with some engaging solo moments particularly the way she tackled the sheaves of notes, and certainly some of her more vigorous passage-work was a long way from historically informed. This was a very personal and very engaging performance, not one I would want to live with on disc but it made a superb live musical experience.

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