London Chamber Orchestra – 20 June

Die Zauberflöte – Overture
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67

Alina Ibragimova (violin)

London Chamber Orchestra
Christopher Warren-Green

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 20 June, 2003
Venue: St. John’s, Smith Square, London

The main attraction of the evening was to hear the young Russian-born violinist, Alina Ibragimova. We shall be hearing a great deal more of her.

This well-attended concert was a double focus on youth. Also included, as part of the London Chamber Orchestra’s “A Chance to Play” scheme now in its second year, young children, here pupils from Northmead Junior School, have the opportunity to play with a professional orchestra. The LCO contains some of London’s top players.

This innovative scheme enjoys MFI’s sponsorship. If it leads to more young people being drawn into music, it can only be a good thing, with an added bonus (maybe) of new audiences from family and friends. While one can decry the crasser aspects of commercial sponsorship – such as the fatuous re-naming of venues with the name of the sponsoring company – if, as happened on this occasion, the Chief Executive shows up to support the event, then I’m all for it. There is a long tradition of such business support – witness the Courtauld-Sargent concerts in the ’thirties – and classical music needs that kind of help.

The concert opened with Malcolm J. Singer’s Rondoletto, not a new brand of ice-cream but a piece developed and written for ten young violinists, with a string quartet from the Menuhin School; good to see them all named in the programme. The composer says that the title is stolen from a movement of Stravinsky’s Serenade in A, a made-up word meaning ’little rondo’. There’s a certain irony here given Stravinsky was one of the greatest musical magpies. Singer’s piece sounded more like Prokofiev. The young musicians performed like seasoned pros.

Thereafter, and via a slightly over-hasty performance of the Magic Flute overture, we arrived at the Mendelssohn concerto. Only 17, Alina Ibragimova already boasts an impressive list of appearances. She has had lessons with Christian Tetzlaff and will soon study with Gordan NIkolitch.

Alina Ibragimova launched the Mendelssohn with a notably sweet tone and absolute confidence. What is perhaps more remarkable and distinctive is her musical maturity and her willingness to go her own way. Hers is the antithesis of the high-voltage chromium-plated school of fiddle-playing and harks back to an earlier tradition. For example, in the first movement the 12-bar lead into the second subject was exquisitely prepared with a subtle change of tone colour. Nor is she afraid to create moments of extra space at key points – the first movement cadenza was given time to be a structural pivot. Sympathetically accompanied, the final section of the slow movement achieved the kind of emotional innocence and rapt poetry one hears all too rarely. One does not have to be 17 to play this music but it seems to help – although it was Mendelssohn’s last major work he was still only 35 when he completed it.

To be perfectly frank, Beethoven’s Fifth, one of the pinnacles of the repertoire, to be conducted by Christopher Warren-Green, one of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Concert Masters, was not wholly enticing – even if his conducting activities are proliferating; indeed, he is the LCO’s Principal Conductor. One lives to be agreeably surprised! In fact, orchestral violinists have a good pedigree of crystallising into conductors – think Munch, Martinon and, in our time, Sakari Oramo. Warren-Green’s was an effective performance, helped by some quality playing and uncontroversial tempos (if perhaps slightly too swift for the reverberant St John’s acoustic). Anyone hearing Beethoven 5 for the first time – and there might have been – was given a very good impression of what a great piece it is; a child in my row conducted enthusiastically throughout. Warren-Green’s orchestral layout of antiphonal violins greatly helped, with the (two) basses at the back of the orchestra proving surprisingly present throughout. The rendition was spirited and vivid.

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