Britten Sinfonia

Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV1041
Bach, arr. Tansy Davies
The Well-tempered Clavier – Book II: Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV889
Concerto funebre
Verklärte Nacht

Britten Sinfonia
Alina Ibragimova (violin)Jacqueline Shave [leader]

Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins

Reviewed: 24 October, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

This concert marked the 15th-birthday of Britten Sinfonia, its first performance having taken place at South Bank Centre (as it was then) on 24 Oct. Given the enterprising fare on offer, it was a pity that the Queen Elizabeth Hall was only half-full for the occasion.

Alina Ibragimova. Photograph: Sussie AhlburgFor Bach’s concerto the 22-year-old violinist Alina Ibragimova was joined by six members of Britten Sinfonia (two violins, viola, cello, double bass and harpsichord). Written during the period when Bach was influenced by the Italian school, most notably Vivaldi; Ibragimova’s performance reflected classical poise rather than Italianate exuberance in the outer movements, and restraint in the Andante.

The Sinfonia’s full complement of 24 string-players, led by Jacqueline Shave, then played Tansy Davies’s arrangement of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A minor (from Book II of the ’48’). Rather than provide a re-interpretation of the work, Davies’s arrangement was limited to a straightforward elucidation of Bach’s contrapuntal lines, with the Prelude illuminated by string quartet (with occasional pizzicatos on double bass), and the Fugue projected by the all the musicians.

Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s Concerto funebre, written in the autumn of 1939 and revised in 1959, reflects the composer’s reaction to the outbreak of World War II. Its depth of feeling and tonal basis are reminiscent of Honegger’s Second Symphony from 1941, a work similarly inspired by the trauma of war. Ibragimova and Britten Sinfonia recently recorded the work for Hyperion. The musicians’ previous experience was evident in the wonderful unanimity of ensemble, clear delineation of texture and careful attention to dynamics. There was a depth of feeling in the Adagio and fierce energy in the Allegro di molto that was most impressive.

For Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (in its full-strings rather than string sextet version) the Britten Sinfonia was led by Ibragimova. Superb ensemble and tonal control remained but the performance was too reserved, the players seemingly unwilling to abandon themselves to the moment. The drama, delicacy and radiance of Schoenberg’s music was muted.

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