BBC Symphony Orchestra/Gardner Alina Ibragimova [Bartók, Ligeti & Tchaikovsky]

Four Pieces for Orchestra, Op.12
Violin Concerto
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36

Alina Ibragimova (violin)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Edward Gardner

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 13 March, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Edward GardnerA parallel may perhaps be drawn with our ‘download, music-plugged-into-ears’ times – a requirement for noise to pass a train journey (and irritate one’s fellow passengers not similarly ‘wired-up’) when quality of sound is of little or no consequence. But sound (its creation, its capturing, its re-mastering) is of paramount importance when considering performances of great music, and this ingredient did not seem particularly high on Edward Gardner’s list for this concert. The colours of the Bartók were fully evident and clarity was impressive, but also over-bright in the too-immediate Barbican Hall acoustic, really quiet playing and dynamic variegation being something of a premium.

Bartók’s Four Pieces for Orchestra have long enjoyed Pierre Boulez’s championing (certainly in London, with the BBCSO, LSO and Chicago Symphony). Gardner didn’t quite capture the shadows of these pieces (he seemed more intent on projecting detail, even though this Hall does that anyway); thus the first piece lacked some Impressionism. A too-deliberate tempo took away some of the savagery of the second-movement ‘Scherzo’, and the final two Pieces, respectively, were too restless and not brooding enough.

Whilst no musician should be expected to do something different for the sake of it, this performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony offered few insights and was disappointingly brash, brass-dominated and lacking any real sense of identity. An all-purpose beefiness and an element of toying with contrasting and lighter sections replaced the first movement’s inner turmoil; again dynamics never went quiet enough, and the ear craved more light and shade. Come the second movement, its essential simplicity was replaced by nudging the opening oboe solo enough for it to seem ill-at-ease (the cellos response was glorious though) and when the music should turn on its dark side it became self-pitying instead. The ensuing pizzicato scherzo, while certainly fleet and mechanised, was devoid of wit, the finale being blatant rather than exhilarating.

Alina Ibragimova. Photograph: Sussie AhlburgGyörgy Ligeti’s Violin Concerto is typical of its composer in having its madcap moments as well as those that go straight to the heart; there is constant delight in their intricacies and allusions. What a range of colours Ligeti conjures from his small band of players (enhanced by ocarinas and slide-whistles). Whether the five movements quite add up to a convincing whole is a moot point, but this performance was especially fine from all concerned – in terms of preparation and appreciation – not least Alina Ibragimova, whose commitment, sensitivity and bravura was beyond reproach.

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