mon 20/05/2019

Ibragimova, BBCSO, Oramo, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews

Ibragimova, BBCSO, Oramo, Barbican

Ibragimova, BBCSO, Oramo, Barbican

Eclectic but stimulating programme to close the BBCSO season

Sakari Oramo: admirable dedication to British musicChris Christodoulou/BBC

Sakari Oramo devised a bold programme for the final concert of the BBC Symphony Orchestra season: a new work from a young British composer, a popular but knotty violin concerto and an obscure pacifist oratorio. There were few obvious connections between the works, but all proved satisfying, not least for the excellent playing of the orchestra itself.

Joseph Phibbs has had a presence on the London orchestral scene for over a decade, going back to his Last Night of the Proms commission in 2003. His previous London orchestral premiere, Rivers to the Sea, was given by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia in 2012. That work was commissioned to sit alongside a Mahler symphony, and was suitably sympathetic in its stylistic outlook. His new work, Partita, is, if anything, even more Mahlerian, suggesting this is where Phibbs feels most at home. There is also some Britten in the mix, especially in the bleak austerity with which he sometimes applies his late Romantic textures. Phibbs may have become more traditional since Rivers to the Sea, but he has also become more accomplished, and in Partita we now hear the voice of a fully mature artist.

Ibragimova is capable of a viola-like richness in the lower register, elegant, round and with plenty of projection

As the title suggests, the piece is based on a Baroque model, with its six movements all named after dance forms. But the connections are tenuous, more of pace and mood than of character or rhythmic identity. Phibbs’s greatest strength here is his use of the orchestra, the lines clear and bold and always clearly delineated through the instrumental groupings. He also has a good feeling for shaping and pace, skilfully connecting together the short movements into a unified 20-minute span. The movements mostly flow one into the next, but the change of pace at the start of each adds variety to the otherwise broad spans. The Baroque model may seem distant, but Phibbs always demonstrates that he has good reasons to apply it.

Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto is a virtuoso work, as much for the orchestra and conductor as for the soloist, but all proved equal to its demands here. Alina Ibragimova is a versatile violinist, light in Baroque repertoire and lyrical in the Romantic. Bartók requires something else, a rhythmically incisive style and a tone with plenty of presence, all of which Ibragimova brought.

She is capable of a viola-like richness in the lower register, elegant, round and with plenty of projection. Just as valuable is the woody, guttural tone she can apply higher up, evoking the folk fiddle yet without ever sacrificing sophistication. Oramo led a colourful but brisk and disciplined reading from the orchestra, and all deserve credit for the riveting climax to the first movement, and for the elegant but never sentimental textures of the second. Suitably raucous brass energised the finale, the violin miraculously shining through the orchestral textures, even in the loudest tuttis. An impressive performance all round, demonstrating yet another outstanding facet of Ibragimova’s art.

Dona nobis pacem is a large-scale oratorio by Vaughan Williams, a lament for the pity of war and a call for peace. It mixes Biblical texts with Walt Whitman poems, the former generally set to lamenting music, the latter mostly to militaristic trumpets and drums. The work is a rarity, a result perhaps of the choral writing, which, while idiomatic, sounds fiendishly complex. The BBC Symphony Chorus coped well, providing impressive clarity and detail. Of the two vocal soloists, baritone Duncan Rock excelled. His voice is light in timbre but powerful enough to project across the large orchestra, and his diction is excellent. Impressive clarity too from soprano Sarah Fox, although her drier tone was less attractive, and her pitch was sometimes wayward in the upper register.

All round, though, a good performance of an unusual work, its inclusion here yet another example of Sakari Oramo’s admirable dedication to British music. The work’s neglect is sad. Vaughan Williams’s plea for peace in our time remains topical today, though it was even more so when the work was composed, in 1936, a time when peace must have seemed a more fragile prospect than ever.

  • This concert was recorded by BBC Radio 3 for future broadcast.

@Saquabote

Joseph Phibbs may have become more traditional, but he has also become more accomplished, and we now hear the voice of a fully mature artist

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