A night that Bartok would approve of



Singapore Symphony Orchestra - Lan Shui (conductor),

Alina Ibragimova (violin)

Esplanade Concert Hall/Last Friday

Russian-British violinist Alina Ibragimova has taken the classical world by storm with her uncanny ability to move across genres from baroque to modern with ease, always bringing her own individuality to the performances.

Her riveting performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) and the orchestra's brilliant account of the Bartok Concerto For Orchestra made the concert one of the high points of the SSO season.

This programme opened with Alban Berg's Three Pieces For Orchestra, a complex, abstract work by the famed student of Arnold Schoenberg. The demanding 20-minute listen and the concerto that followed meant the first half lasted more than 80 minutes.

Shui Lan has always managed to succeed in pulling the SSO through the toughest of works.

Once again, he directed the huge orchestra, which included eight percussionists and six horns, well. He kept a tight rein, resulting in a taut, precise reading.

Berg used an extensive range of orchestral techniques in his composition and it took all of Shui's mastery to pull it together. In the end, though, it felt that the musicians were not in total agreement as to just what the music had to say.

There was no such hesitancy in the Brahms Violin Concerto that followed. Here, the SSO musicians seemed to fully understand what the soloists had in mind and they played with single-minded purpose and commitment.

The extended first movement brought orchestra and soloist through dramatic extremes. Ibragimova's ability to switch instantly from mere whisper to full-on power, coupled with immaculate phrasing, made every moment enthralling.

Each phrase and note was played to the limit, yet remained musical at all times.

The second movement was a masterclass in concerto playing, with Ibragimova playing at the cusp of audibility and communicating with her fellow musicians as if in a chamber setting.

The SSO musicians responded superbly with Rachel Walker (oboe) playing her extended solos exquisitely. Ibragimova's playing brimmed with energy throughout the spirited final movement.

There have been other memorable performances of the Brahms Violin Concerto by the SSO and other eminent violinists, but tonight's performance will be long-remembered for Ibramigova's passion and individuality.

Shui loves orchestral showpieces and Bartok's Concerto For Orchestra, a five-movement work that showcases different sections of the orchestra, was a perfect vehicle for him to show off the ensemble he has nurtured over the past two decades.

The piece is among the composer's most popular works, in part because of the use of accessible melodies and harmonies, fugues and other familiar compositional techniques, all in his uniquely innovative style.

The Concerto For Orchestra requires playing of the highest order and this was present in spades.

The second movement, Presentation Of Couples, referring to five pairs of instruments each playing its part in parallel, was performed with distinction and the fugues that peppered the work were played with utmost precision.

Most of all, Shui was able to imbue a coherency in the performance that made the orchestra sound like a single instrument - just what Bartok would have had in mind.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2018, with the headline 'A night that Bartok would approve of'. Subscribe