Review: Seattle Symphony Orchestra with Jakub Hrůša, guest conductor, and Alina Ibragimova, violin soloist; May 30, 2013
By Melinda Bargreen
It was Czech Night at the Seattle Symphony, when Prague-born guest conductor Jakub Hrůša returned to the Benaroya Hall podium to lead works of Smetana and Dvorák. Plus the Beethoven Violin Concerto – usually a work that is the high point of any program.
Not this time. The soloist, Alina Ibragimova, is a highly regarded young Russian-born violinist with many admirers, and her Seattle performance made it clear that she has much to recommend her: technical alacrity and a strong musical imagination, among other attributes.
Her highly idiosyncratic Beethoven Concerto, however, was frustrating to hear. Instead of the strength and nobility of line many soloists bring to the concerto, Ibragimova apparently decided that pianissimo was the way to bring many passages to life. It didn’t work. The Beethoven is a bravura piece, with quieter passages to be sure, but Ibragimova’s sound was all too often lacking in focus and intensity. The bow seemed to skitter weakly over the strings, and there were many pitch problems – disconcerting in a soloist who has won international repute. Ibragimova’s choice of cadenzas also verged on the bizarre: she played Wolfgang Schneiderhan arrangements (with her own alterations) of cadenzas Beethoven wrote for his piano transcription of the Violin Concerto. The total effect was that of a soloist who has wandered off track in a quest to be different.
Hrůša, an alert and energetic conductor, partnered the soloist carefully and tried (not always successfully) to mute the orchestra enough for Ibragimova’s pallid tones to be heard. He and the Symphony had more success with the other two works: a lively and varied account of Smetana’s odd, episodic, and brilliantly colorful “Wallenstein’s Camp,” and a well characterized and distinctive reading of the tuneful Dvorák Symphony No. 6.
The orchestra was responsive, though the total effect was marred by lots of bloopers from the horns and brass (particularly the trumpets). It was a good evening for the strings, however, who dug into the music with the kind of zest we’d like to have heard from the program’s soloist.