Gig Review: London Symphony Orchestra @ The Colston Hall
by Alice Lacey

Brahms Violin Concerto (Soloist, Alina Ibragimova)

Dutilleux Metaboles

Ravel Daphnis and Chloé Suite No. 2

Brahms' glorious Violin Concerto is one of the composer's most frequently performed works, with its almost otherworldly balance of the melodic and the majestic, the exalted and the earthy, it is no wonder this piece was chosen to open a night devoted to the mythological and fabled at a packed out Colston Hall.

Given the transcendental nature of the music, it seemed apt that Russian born Alina Ibragimova, one of the most intriguing young violinists to appear on the classical scene in recent years, was lined up to play Solo violin.

Dressed in a long lavender-hued dress, trimmed with silk down one side, Ibragimova oozed competence. Teaming up with the London Symphony Orchestra (the LSO) under conductor Lionel Bringuier, Ibragimova had an impressive grasp of the concerto's expressive phrasing.  Everything was thoughtfully played, beautifully interpreted and, as hoped for, with the Joachim cadenza. Complicated rhythmic passages were tackled in a refreshingly robust, physical manner which seemed at odds with Ibragimova's otherwise ethereal demeanor, but emphasised the fact that every ounce of effort was being put into the performance.

"Ibragimova's sensational development of the gregarious finale showed her love of the work"

Confidently leading the orchestra throughout, her sensational development of the gregarious finale showed her love of the work.  Her rapt concentration and open-hearted warmth plus superb technical control were rewarded with thunderous applause from the audience, and left us wanting several encores (which sadly never came).

After the once-in-a-lifetime thrills of the Violin Concerto it’s perhaps inevitable that Dutilleux's 1964 work Metaboles represented a decline in mood.

Here the problem largely stemmed from the fact that the piece seemed at odds with the romanticism of the mythical theme and seemed a bit 'shoe-horned' in. Whilst the work had an enormous variety of expression, orchestral colour and tempo, it lacked a sense of cogency, unity and luscious narrative that the Brahms and Ravel pieces abounded in. On Metaboles, Dutilleux wrote that it was his intention to "present one or several ideas in a different order and from different angles, until by successive stages, they are made to change character completely" and arguably his mission was accomplished, but with somewhat limited success given that overall, the music seemed devoid of emotion or depth.  Notwithstanding the above, the LSO performed the piece with tangible enthusiasm and technical showmanship (particularly the elaborately large percussion section) which at least meant the piece was fun to watch, if not to listen to.

 

With a palpable sigh of relief came the final piece of the night: Ravel's glorious Daphnis and Chloé Suite No. 2. Premiering in Paris in 1914, this orchestral masterpiece was written as a setting to a pastoral Greek fable by Longus. Daphnis and Chloe, abandoned as children and raised by Shepherds, have fallen in love (Daphnis charmed Chloe by playing for her on the pan-pipes). The second suite opens with day break, and is quite possibly one of the most magical depictions of the gradual awakening of nature in all of music – a small glimpse of what heaven might be like. I was amused to read however that when Ravel was asked how it was that the most famous musical evocation of sunrise has been penned by someone who never got up before 10.30 am, he replied, somewhat rationally, "I used my imagination!".

 

Led expertly by Bringuier, the LSO played out the remainder of the story with a sparkling virtuosity; culminating with the finale of the piece; a whirling celebration of pagan love which brought the evening to a hedonistic, exhilarating end.

 

Overall, this was a programme designed to spirit away even the most cynical of audiences to a far off, mystical land where time forgot, and with the Brahms and Ravel combined, its intentions would seem to have been realised with complete, sensuous, success.

Image © Eva Vermandel

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