Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op.10
Violin Concerto, Op.14
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92
Yossif Ivanov (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 13 April, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London Queen Elizabeth Hall
In the first of three consecutive-evening London Philharmonic concerts each featuring music by Benjamin Britten written in the 1930s, Marin Alsop began this first programme with an impressive account of the ‘Frank Bridge Variations’ – a brilliantly imagined tribute from precocious pupil to his much-loved teacher (and splendid composer in his own right!). Written over just five weeks in the summer of 1937, Britten (born 1913) utilises a string orchestra to astonishing effect and took his cue from the second of Bridge’s Three Idylls (for string quartet).
Alsop conjured an incisive and richly expressive response from the LPO’s strings, with much excellent solo work and integrated ensemble. Maybe some of the slower passages were overly protracted, and more tonal light and shade would have been welcome, but Alsop and the musicians brought the music alive to remind what an astonishing work this is – pensive at the opening and intensely emotional at the close; in between the cavalcade of often-witty, burlesque-like Variations (which seem to capture aspects of Bridge’s character, such identities not carried forward to the published score) are ingenious and enjoyable until the ‘Funeral March’ erupts with universal suffering.
Contemporaneous with the Britten is Samuel Barber’s glorious Violin Concerto (1939). Yossif Ivanov “not yet 21 years old” (to quote from his biography) gave a wonderful showing in the solo part. His technical ability always served this beautifully Romantic concerto and his reticence in the first movement was very affecting; a good tempo, too, flowing with purpose and avoiding it being the first of two slow movements. When that did arrive, Ian Hardwick led off with an eloquent oboe solo and Ivanov dug deep into his instrument to produce a rich sound that could, from a less innate musician, have been considered applied. The brief finale dashed and darted, textural luminescence never threatened – and this lovely and colourful work concluded with a unanimous flourish. Alsop, very familiar with this music, and the LPO were wholly excellent in support with much finely-placed detail.
‘Must hear more of Ivanov’, I was thinking. I didn’t have to wait long. He didn’t announce his encore, and for a while it seemed to be the slow movement of Bartók’s Sonata, but I believe he played the single-movement Sonata No.3 of Ysaÿe, known as ‘Ballade’; it was a quite marvellous performance, superbly executed and conveyed with insight and charisma. This guy’s special!
Beethoven 7 began with a graceful slow introduction, but the segue to the main Allegro didn’t quite match tempos, which were now to be faster than ideal if well controlled and without further diversion. Best was the Allegretto, which had purpose and real passion at the climax. The scherzo skipped along, the trio flowed in continuity; but the finale – Allegro con brio to the scherzo’s Presto – was, as so often, pushed along too much (a rampage!); it sounded hen-pecked, and antiphonal violins were missed in the firsts’ and seconds’ exchanges in the coda (and at numerous points earlier). But there was real spirit to the whole, a communicative liveliness that made its mark.