Persuasion and Silky Swagger from Ibragimova in Schumann Concerto

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms: Alina Ibragimova (violin), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Emmanuel Krivine (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 10.03.2016 (SRT)

Mendelssohn: Overture: The Hebrides
Schumann: Violin Concerto
Brahms: Symphony No. 4

We’ll never know how Robin Ticciati would have finished his SCO Brahms cycle: the poor chap has a herniated disc and has cancelled all engagements until at least the end of the month.  So in steps the orchestra’s new Principal Guest conductor, Emmanuel Krivine, and I have to say that the result was pretty thrilling.  I haven’t loved every aspect of Ticciati’s take on the first three symphonies, but I found Krivine’s way with the Fourth utterly gripping.  He has a wonderful ear for detail, regularly throwing flecks of colour into the mix in a way that illuminates the texture, and he got so involved in the music that he repeatedly leapt across the podium during the Scherzo.

The Fourth Symphony is the pinnacle of Brahms’ lifelong fascination with musical structure, and that came to life with a cogently argued first movement, an Andante of processional purposefulness and a finale that seemed to grow in intensity and tragedy as it progressed.  It’s been a while since I head the orchestra play a symphony as well as this, too, perhaps fuelled by the weight of the work and the adrenaline of the short-notice replacement (not to mention, I’m sure, some affection for Krivine).  The brass were ringing and well balanced against the strings, and, to allow one detail to stand for many, I loved the way the strings played the great surging theme of the slow movement, with minimal vibrato on its first appearance and then lots of vibrato on its second, underlining its inescapable über-Romantic overtones.

In short, it was magnificent, and it followed even more magnificence from Alina Ibragimova in the Schumann Violin Concerto.  One of the great things about having Ticciati at the SCO is that, even when he’s absent, he can draw in some of today’s top-notch soloists and guests, and seeing her in the flesh tonight I could see why the hype about Ibragimova was justified.  She clearly has no truck with the idea that this concerto is flawed: instead she attacks it with a dramatist’s attention to detail, making all those (astounding!) double-stopped runs serve a purpose rather than be merely for show.  Her passagework at the end of the first movement was dazzling, and she achieved a strange sort of silky swagger in the final Polonaise that was really winning.  The gorgeously persuasive slow movement, with its lovely duet for violin and cello, was the icing on the cake.  As for The Hebrides, Krivine’s tempo was fast (noticeably so, as in his recent Schubert Unfinished), but he also shaped the piece with organic egg and flow.  As I said last time, Krivine’s long-term relationship with the SCO is going to be one to watch and enjoy.

The SCO’s Brahms series concludes next week with the German Requiem.  Due to Robin Ticciati’s illness, this will be conducted by Ed Spanjaard.

Simon Thompson



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