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Sibelius : Violin Concerto in D minor Op 47 , Kullervo Symphony Op7.   Alina Ibragimova (vln) Päivi Nisula (sop) Raimo Laukka (bar) YL Helsinki Men's Chorus, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Osmo Vänskä (conductor) Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 17.11.2006 (BK)


Alina Ibragimova
Picture © Sussie Ahlberg



Arriving for a concert where there is a subsititute soloist is often a disappointment, but not so in the case of the 21 year old Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova. Standing in for the indisposed Reka Szilvay at Symphony Hall on Friday, she played the Sibelius concerto as well as anyone I can remember from recent years: so well in fact that I was reminded of Joshua Bell's performance at the Lahti Sibelius Festival in 2002, once again with Osmo Vänskä conducting.


Already a BBC New Generation Artist and winner of both the 1999 Royal Philharmonic Society Emily Anderson Prize, and the 2002 London Symphony Orchestra Music Scholarship, Ms Ibragimova studies with Christian Tetzlaff and Gordan Nikolitch. With a huge, golden tone flowing from her borrowed Guanerius, it was obvious from the outset that this remarkable young woman will be someone to listen out for in the future. Her nearly flawless technique (not quite perfect as yet in some of the multi-stopped passages of this difficult concerto) and effortlessly natural style of playing in lyrical episodes, high harmonics and pyrotechnics equally, held the audience enraptured for the concerto's half-hour duration. Everything she did felt unforced, apparently spontaneous and perfectly in keeping with the fire and ice of this quintessentially Nordic concerto. The orchestra joined with the audience in enthusiastic and unusually prolonged applause : a wholly appropriate tribute to an exceptional talent.


Quite what it is about Kullervo that caused Sibelius to forbid its performance during his lifetime has always been something of a mystery to me. Yes, structurally it's not quite a symphony except in a Mahlerian sense, and yes too it has overtones of Tchaikovsky and even Bruckner with which a young composer finding his individuality might naturally be dissatisfied. But it remains wholly Finnish in character and much of it sings with precisely the same spirit as the later tone poems and symphonies. In a sense, this music is Finland - influenced by neighbours and other cultures as it has been constantly throughout its history - but firmly and deeply rooted in the harshness and beauty of its landscape and alertly alive (as very few other places are) to the value of its distinctive identity. The Finnish word Sisu means grit, or determination in dealing with adversity, and this music has literally vast amounts of that.

With the same male soloist and chorus featured on his celebrated BIS recording, Osmo Vänskä turned out an impeccable performance full of drive and energy, alternating with heart-rending lyricism and tenderness. The BBC SSO (Osmo Vänskä's 'own' orchestra until he went off to Minnesota) responded to his direction with self-evident affection and respect, producing thrilling cascades of sound that never once seemed to be less than exactly right for the music of the moment. In the third movement, 'Kullervo and his Sister', in which the couple's tragic meeting results in seduction and unintended incest, Finnish National Opera principals Päivi Nisula and Raimo Laukka both sang passionately while the YL Male Chorus fulfilled its function as Narrator faultlessly - as it did later when describing Kullervo's guilty suicide in the fifth and final movement of the work. This is an exceptionally fine choir - the oldest Finnish language chorus in Finland with a history dating back to 1883 - and some of its early members sang in the first performance of Kullervo. Deservedly, it has sometimes been called 'The Voice of Finnishness.'


All in all this was a wonderful evening of music-making, distinguished by an abundance of exceptional artistry. Such a pity then that Symphony Hall was less than two-thirds full.




Bill Kenny




The YL Helsinki Men's Chorus web site is here.



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)