Maestro Noseda Makes a Thrilling Return to the BBC Philharmonic With Alina Ibragimova Sensational in Shostakovich

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Respighi, Shostakovich, Prokofiev: Alina Ibragimova (violin), BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Gianandrea Noseda (conductor), Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 26.11 2011. (MC)

Respighi: Botticelli Triptych (1927)
Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1 (1947/8, rev. 1955)
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 6 (1945/47)

The concert was being recorded BBC Radio 3 for future broadcast on Monday 5th December 2011.

I rather expected that Gianandrea Noseda’s return as conductor laureate to the BBC Philharmonic at the Bridgewater Hall would be an exhilarating affair and I wasn’t disappointed. With appropriate passion, pace and power there was certainly no sign of this enthusiastic conductor mellowing with age by adopting a more conservative approach to dynamics and tempi. Noseda’s three work programme was a mouth watering prospect: first a lightly scored work inspired by three Botticelli paintings and two weighty contemporaneous scores created out of similar musical environments in a turbulent Soviet Russia.

With two emotional blockbusters to follow I relished the idea of a sparer scored work to open the concert that would serve to atune and draw in the ear. Respighi’s appealing Botticelli Triptych (Three Botticelli Pictures) are masterly musical depictions of Spring; The Adoration of The Magi and The Birth of Venus from the great Italian Renaissance artist Botticelli that Noseda interpreted delightfully and so luminously. The woodwind quartet was exceptional especially the bassoonist performing his key part superbly.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the evening was Alina Ibragimova’s searing performance of Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto. Shostakovich’s darkly serious A minor Concerto,now acknowledged as one of finest of the twentieth century, suited Ibragimova perfectly. It seems remarkable today that owing to strict Soviet censorship at the time of its composition a fearful Shostakovich consigned the score to a drawer for a number of years. Ibragimova is one of an elite group of outstanding young women violinists on the international scene today that include: Hilary Hahn; Arabella Steinbacher; Julia Fischer; Leila Josefowicz and Lisa Batiashvili. I was at Kendal last January when Ibragimova played the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the BBC Philharmonic under Günther Herbig. That was a fine performance but this Shostakovich interpretation, a composer from Russia the country of her birth, was in a different league. Ibragimova’s violin a Pietro Guarneri of Venice (1738) provided by Georg von Opel filled the hall splendidly with its honeyed tone.

With a disturbing, sobbing atmosphere being generated right from the opening bars of the Nocturne this was one of the most disconcerting and mysterious openings to the concerto that I have heard from a soloist and orchestra. Rarely has this music seemed so desolate and inhospitable with an extreme tension of nerve shattering anticipation. In the Scherzo of sardonic wit Noseda built weighty orchestral climaxes of furiously angry emotional impact. This is the composer cocking a snook at the Soviet authorities. Ibragimova’s expressive playing both brisk and committed felt perfectly in accord with the orchestra.

Probably the concerto’s most celebrated movement is the Passacaglia said to serve as a requiem for victims of the Stalinist regime. I was struck by the effect of the doleful horns over timpani at the start of the movement. Throughout Noseda ensured that the orchestra played with a granite power and sense of sinister grandeur. As if her instrument was weeping Ibragimova played the extended and exposed, song-like melody with a marked pleading and mournful quality. As Noseda tightened the screw the tension and sheer declamatory force of the orchestra became almost unbearable. Over a gradually fading passage for a single timpano Ibragimova’s cadenza,an unremitting rhapsody, became progressively disconsolate and introverted. Following straight on the Final, Burlesque was vigorous and boisterously rhythmic. At last Ibragimova’s dancing violin was allowed a gypsy-like freedom. Leaving a dramatic impression the concerto ended uncomfortably abrupt on a wild and breathless note.

With the exception of the Symphony No. 1 Classical’ Prokofiev’s set of symphonies has never really captured the public imagination so it was pleasing to hear a performance of the powerful Sixth Symphony. No doubt reflecting the horrors of the millions that died in the war and looking ahead to the anxiety of an uncertain future in Soviet Russia this commendable symphony made a considerable impression. An assured Noseda provided a muscular take that brought out the deep brutality of Prokofiev’s dark and unsettling writing. Terrific bursts of visceral energy in the opening movement broke through a barren and cold winter landscape in music that is constantly searching for a direction and a purpose. To end the movement the lonely trumpet cut through the orchestral sound superbly. An alarming cry of anguish that opened the slow movement set the tone for this highly charged writing embedded with an unbearable stress. Noseda ensured that the throbbing pain of grief juxtaposed starkly with the infused sarcasm of the march. Remarkable here was the chilling sound of the strings. The Finale opened briskly with all the naivety of a rumbustious rustic dance that sounded practically Stravinskian; a mood that didn’t last for long. Soon it felt that Noseda was depicting the scaling of a massive precipice in the manner of Strauss’s Alpine Symphony. A welcome respite was the peaceful section reminiscent of a blue tinted ice lake. As the summit approached the thunderous orchestral climaxes that Noseda built up were remarkable. An enthusiastic ovation followed this outstandingly committed performance to mark Noseda’s return to the Bridgwater Hall.

Michael Cookson