Philharmonia/Mackerras Alina Ibragimova

Tannhäuser – Overture and Venusberg Music
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Symphony No.9 in C, D944 (Great)

Alina Ibragimova (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 10 June, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Sir Charles Mackerras entered vigorously and addressed the audience. That the gentlemen of the orchestra, and himself, were jacket-less was at his request; it had, after all, been a very hot day and this was an “extremely demanding” concert. He also pointed out that June 2006 brought Walter Legge’s centenary (Legge founded the Philharmonia Orchestra) and that this programme reflected Legge’s musical tastes. Mackerras also confirmed that Janine Jansen had withdrawn from the evening (with an eye infection) and that Mozart’s G major Violin Concerto (K216) had been replaced by Mendelssohn’s in E minor (the work that Jansen was originally meant to perform).

For Wagner and Schubert the Philharmonia’s strings were at full strength, the eight double basses lined along the back of the platform. During his address Mackerras advised that the concert was being recorded for downloading purposes (a Philharmonia initiative) and asked that we minded the coughs. Sad, then, that this very intrusion, together with the ringing of a mobile phone, afflicted the spectral transition between the Pilgrims’ Hymn and the ‘main allegro’ of the Tannhäuser Overture.

Mackerras’s conducting of Wagner was here no-nonsense, certainly in the opening Hymn, which emerged new-minted and devoid of portentousness – though the trombones were rather stentorian – and with fast music both fleet and poised. In an incident-packed account (but with a lack of the very quietest dynamics), Mackerras (baton-less, as throughout the concert) was a demonstrative force on the podium and kept something in reserve for the bacchanal that Wagner cut into the overture for the opera’s Paris revision. The calm, if charged, Venusberg Music was equally vivid and, now, voluptuous.

The Philharmonia was reduced in size for the Mendelssohn, four of the double bassists moving front-right.

Born in Russia 1985 and the daughter of Rinat Ibragimov, the LSO’s principal double bassist, Alina Ibragimova brings a natural and beguiling sway to her music-making. Equally natural is her phrasing, and her violin reports sweetness and depth of tone. At once youthful and mature, Ibragimova impressed with her confidence and her faith in the music.Dynamic range, colour and integrity were the hallmarks here; a ‘traditional’ performance if rather too tempo-contrasted at times, and with a tendency to ‘attack’ notes, which seemed unduly ruffling. If the finale was taken at rather too much of a lick, Ibragimova has all the technique to justify it, even if ‘shoehorning’ is the result. The Philharmonia and Mackerras were alert accompanists throughout, and it’s worth noting that Kenneth Smith (given the flute is required to ‘shadow’ the soloist at the opening of the finale) did so impeccably for all the ‘dash’ required.

For the Schubert, the octet of basses returned to the back of the platform, the woodwinds were quadrupled, Mackerras retained the ‘period’ trumpets from the Mendelssohn, and the violins were, finally, antiphonal. (Mackerras seems fickle with this arrangement, which would have been just as pertinent for Mendelssohn and Wagner.)

As for the performance? Well, it was bracing! The ‘slow’ introduction was anything but, and such momentum was maintained throughout the four movements. Whether exhilarating or wearing (depending on one’s point of view), Mackerras’s very carefully plotted route-map was there be heard, one that exposed much detail rarely heard (especially trumpet phrases in the second movement) even though trumpets and trombones were consistently too loud and dominating (braying, even). If there was little repose, the finale gathered itself for a resounding final chord that was deeply conclusive. The preceding scherzo had breezed along with a velocity (more so on its reprise, it seemed) that spoke volumes for the Philharmonia’s ability for spot-on ensemble. It was only in this movement that Mackerras observed repeats, inconsistently so: all in the trio but only the first one in the scherzo itself.

If the ‘slow’ movement was a full-on march (very much ‘con moto’) – no room for what might be termed Furtwängler’s ‘recollection in tranquillity’ – its climax was something extraordinary: a flare-up released with apocalyptic terror, its aftermath finding the Philharmonia’s cellos responding with a regret that came straight from the collective heart.

  • Second performance of Wagner and Schubert at QEH on 20 June with Alfred Brendel playing Mozart
  • Philharmonia Orchestra
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