Violinist shines brightly and darkly with BSO in Haydn, Hartmann

February 19, 2016 at 12:57 pm

By David Wright

Alina Ibragimova performed music of Haydn and Hartmann with Vladimir Jurowski and the BSO Thursday night. Photo: Liza Voll

Alina Ibragimova performed music of Haydn and Hartmann with Vladimir Jurowski and the BSO Thursday night. Photo: Liza Voll

The Boston Symphony Orchestras observed school vacation week Thursday night by giving about half of its players the week off, as Vladimir Jurowski led a chamber-size ensemble in deft performances of rarities by Haydn, Beethoven, and Karl Amadeus Hartmann.

In her BSO debut, violin soloist Alina Ibragimova made a strong impression playing a double bill of concertos by Hartmann and Haydn.

To describe any symphony or concerto by either of the two great Classical-era masters as a rarity might seem strange in this era of proliferating early-music orchestras, CD box sets and downloads, but the skimpy BSO performance histories in the printed program bore it out.

This orchestra, at least, has rarely ventured Haydn’s Symphony No. 26 in D minor (“Lamentazione”) or Violin Concerto No. 1 in C major, and even Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 hasn’t been heard in a BSO subscription concert since 2009.

As for Hartmann, this estimable mid-20th century composer had darkened the orchestra’s doorstep only twice before his deeply affecting Concerto funebre for violin and strings made its BSO bow on Thursday.

Haydn’s “Lamentazione” Symphony, with its minor key and the syncopated throb of its opening theme, alluded to the emotionally charged Sturm und Drang style that was in fashion around 1770, without getting its wig mussed very much. The work’s nickname comes from its quotation of a Gregorian chant associated with Easter week and Christ’s Passion, not from any overt rending of garments in the music.

Nevertheless, Jurowski’s performance favored dark-colored oboes and horns over the lively strings, and the bass line reinforced by double basses and bassoon also pointed tomb-ward.

In contrast, the walking bass and tender violin theme of the Adagio were reminders of the influence of Handel on those who came after him. Jurowski made sure another chant melody was heard glowing in the oboes as the violins elaborated on their theme.

Unlike the more elaborate symphonies of Haydn’s later years, this one closed modestly with a minuet, which sounded both incisive and delicate in Jurowski’s well-gauged performance. Haydn’s witty treatment of upbeats was much in evidence, especially in the playful trio section.

Hartmann’s Concerto funebre, begun amid the gathering shadows of Nazism and war and revised in tranquil 1959, proved to be both more overt in its lamentations than Haydn’s symphony and concerned with maintaining a neoclasssical balance à la Hindemith.

Soloist Ibragimova, making her BSO debut, walked this expressive line with assurance, leading the way with an intimate yet eloquent performance that ranged from a whisper to the occasional surge of rich violin tone.

Jurowski drew a variety of colors from the string ensemble, first in brief dabs supporting the solo violin, later in full cry during the third movement’s furious, Bartókian dance.

Ibragimova’s fiery playing in that movement and warm meditations during the preceding funeral march left little to be desired. But it was the way she seemed to suspend time in the work’s opening and closing chorale movements that brought the audience to its feet at the end.

In one of those soloist two-fers that one wishes would happen more often, Ibragimova returned after intermission to show another side of her musical personality in the Haydn concerto.

Composed by just a so-so violinist for his hotshot colleague in the Eszterházy orchestra, the work was delightfully loaded with blazing scales and arpeggios, which Ibragimova rendered freely and with panache, leaving it to Jurowski to restore order in the orchestral tutti sections.

Baroque-era models came to mind again, this time the poised yet volatile expressions of Scarlatti and Soler. Ibragimova supplied her own brief, stylish cadenzas where the score called for them.

The soloist played the second movement’s noble melody with clear tone and sparing use of vibrato, but plenty of dynamic inflection, over the orchestra’s soft, steady pizzicato accompaniment. The protean finale seemed to offer something different every second, sparked by Ibragimova’s bright, zesty solos.

The effect of it all was so irresistible as to leave one hoping it won’t be another 33 years before the BSO plays this concerto again.

No such worries for Beethoven’s nine symphonies, although the Second has tended to take a back seat to its later siblings and even the groundbreaking First. Jurowski gave this rich work a brief place in the sun on Thursday with an up-tempo performance informed by today’s period-instrument orchestras and research on Beethoven’s tempo markings.

The conductor’s brisk interpretation of “Adagio molto” cost the symphony’s introduction some suspense, but one appreciated the attention to the rough and smooth textures in the orchestra, and the bright horn highlights.

The orchestra sounded very together in the fast tempo of the Allegro con brio, especially the crisp winds in the second theme. The orchestral sound was, in that period-instrument way, more of a tossed salad than a blended soup, and a little heavy on the trumpets.

The Larghetto was more “etto” than “largo,” gliding so lightly over the expressive melody that the jaunty closing theme couldn’t offer much contrast. With the trumpets sitting out, one could admire the well-knit orchestral blend.

The scherzo and the finale had a lot going for them, including precise ensemble in fast tempos and imaginative use of orchestral color (for example, the warm surge of string tone in the finale’s second theme), but putting the priority on speed and polish tended to skim past Beethoven’s sudden jokes and pokes in the ribs. The symphony sounded snappy, but not funny.

At the close, however, Jurowski was applauded warmly, perhaps as much for the whole evening of well-played novelties as for the performance just ended.

The program will be repeated 1:30 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday. bso.org; 617-266-1200.

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