Published on Sunday 19 February 2017
Written by Keith Bruce
IT was an odd coincidence that saw two performances of the 14-year-old Mendelssohn’s 10th String Symphony on successive days in Glasgow, the BBC SSO’s Thursday concert under Alpesh Chauhan opening with the piece, and Jonathan Morton choosing it and the 6th to begin each half of this memorable programme. The earlier work, written when young Felix was just 12, perhaps has less evidence of his own distinct signature as you would expect, and here it served another formative purpose as both players and capacity audience attuned to the reverberant acoustic of the space – to my ears a task achieved by the brisk finale.
Nonetheless there were other elements of the concert better suited to the environment, particularly the spare material and long pauses of Arvo Part’s Silouan’s Song, whose tonal and dynamic cohesion was heart-stopping in Morton’s direction of the 14-piece string group. I was less taken by Peteris Vasks’s Viatore, which occupied the same place in the running order after the interval, although his twin influences of both Part and Bach (whose music followed) made his inclusion most apt. The exchanges between fast repeating figures and glissandi on the high strings and slow phrases on the lower ones were certainly cinematic, but seemed a little superficial by comparison with the music around it.
The climax of both halves of the evening, however, was the arrival of violin soloist Alina Ibragimova to the stage. Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s Concerto Funebre is a virtuosic 20 minutes, at once exquisite and terrifying. Her bowing arm mesmerisingly balletic in its fluidity, every tiny harmonic Ibragimova played was absolutely clear and distinct in the interplay between ensemble and soloist. With Morton cheerfully ceding directorial control of proceedings (even if his players were still looking to him), this became Ibragimova’s show, especially when Tom Foster was added on harpsichord for Bach’s Violin Concerto in E.
Many listeners will have come to know the violinist through the broadcast of her late night solo Bach recitals from the BBC Proms last year, and her mastery of the composer was again on show here. There was no question who was in charge, or that the distinct acoustic of the space was going to be an incorporated part of the experience even at the blistering pace of the final movement.