First published in the Guardian on 17 February, 2017
The Scottish Ensembles’s default setting is all flux and dynamism: that’s the mission of this string orchestra, and it makes for nimble conversations within the group. So it was a thrill to hear what happened when they were joined by Alina Ibragimova — violinist of uncompromising focus and intensity who made the sparring go deeper, quieter, fiercer. Ibragimova is a chamber musician as well as soloist, acutely attentive to group texture and counterpoint, but there was no question who was in control. She didn’t so much invite as command their attention, and ours.
The programme was billed as “Music is Power,” a loose theme through works variously banned, self-censored, emphatically spiritual or plain joyous. A pair of early Mendelssohn string symphonies (the sixth and tenth) were delivered as pithy, boisterous dramas, full of light and shade and bravado. Arvo Part’s Silouan’s Song and Peteris Vasks’s Viatore sounded flinty and serene — the holy minimalism thing can feel tokenistic when plonked into a concert as if to provide a quick hit of transcendence, but this performance didn’t overstoke the meaningfulness.
Ibragimova’s two concertos came as a release and a focal point. Hartmann’s Concerto Funebre was before the interval — a WW2 score she recorded a decade ago and which she plays as a ferocious elegy, every phrase made urgent and personal. To close she gave an exuberantly huge-boned account of Bach’s E Major Concerto. I’ve never heard it sound so fun and so fiery.