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Weber, Beethoven, Dvořák: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Günther Herbig (conductor), Alina Ibragimova (violin), Westmorland Hall, Kendal, Cumbria, 22.1.2011 (MC)

Overture Euryanthe (1822/23)

Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major, Op.61 (1806)

Dvořák: Symphony No.8 in G major, Op. 88 (1889)

The concert was being recorded for BBC Radio 3

The vastly experienced conductor and the BBC Philharmonic meeting the extremely talented young violinist provided a heady alchemy at this Kendal concert. Günther Herbig has had a long and fruitful relationship with the BBC Phil becoming their principal guest conductor in 1980. With zest taking precedence over poise Weber’s overture Euryanthe made a splendid if unimaginative curtain-raiser to the evening as well as serving to limber up the players.

Undoubtedly the main attraction of the evening Russian soloist Alina Ibragimova wooed the appreciative audience with an impressive performance of the much loved Beethoven violin concerto. Ibragimova is not just a rising star establishing herself on the scene, she is already a star, vastly talented with a charismatic stage presence. Confident and assured throughout and using only a moderate amount of vibrato Ibragimova’s
1738 Pietro Guarneri violin filled the hall with its honeyed tone. Bringing a mesmerising effect to the heartbreaking slow movement only those with a heart of stone could fail to be moved by her breathtaking interpretation.

The seasoned German maestro Günther Herbig must have surely conducted Dvořák’s Symphony No.8 countless times over the years and didn’t need to use score. I heard the same forces perform this score so successfully just over a week ago at the Bridgwater Hall, Manchester. A native of Bohemia Dvořák loved to incorporate the sounds of nature and folksong into his symphonic music. The captivating and high-spirited Eighth Symphony written mainly at the composer’s Bohemian retreat overflows with a fresh bucolic lyricism. With skilfully chosen speeds Herbig and the BBC Phil rose to the challenge delivering an exhilarating and fresh account of this much loved score. In the briskly taken opening movement, one minute it felt like walking through an autumn forest with all its associated noises and colours of nature. The next minute it was like looking down on the unrelenting clamour and hubbub of a busy Prague. I loved the heavy-bottomed sound produced by the deep rich timbre of the low strings. The nature infused Adagio was beautifully shaped by Herbig with the gifted woodwind making the most of their opportunities to shine. Providing a brief respite from the underlying sense of reflection the underlined passage evocative of a village band was dazzling. The third movement takes the form of a charming Intermezzo containing attractive, richly melodic if rather lugubrious melodies. Firstly a delightful waltz and then a rustic dance in the trio with the magnificent strings again excelling. In a spectacular fashion the glowing trumpet fanfare introduced the Finale, a theme and set of variations. A Dvořák masterstroke is the return of the delightful main Bohemian theme so gloriously played by the opulent sounding cellos. To round off the symphony the BBC Phil played this thrilling and up-lifting music with a passion and determination that few orchestras can match.

This magnificent orchestra had cast their magic spell over a delighted audience. My long journey home in the freezing fog felt eminently worthwhile.

Michael Cookson


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