There is never a dull moment with Alina Ibragimova. The Russian-born violinist, not yet 30, has so many ideas, all fertilised by her own glorious musicianship, that every project she takes on radiates creative vitality. The latest example was this programme with the Britten Sinfonia, with which she has been developing a mutually beneficial partnership: she gets to do projects that other, less adventurous, ensembles might shy away from, while they draw inspiration from her spark and focus.
In the first half they played Bach’s A minor concerto; in the second half, a concerto by the Latvian composer Peteris Vasks (b1946). Both performances underlined the collaborative quality of Ibragimova’s personality – leading by example, as primus inter pares, yet never giving the impression of wanting to dominate.
For the Bach she had an ensemble of just six, making for an outstanding quality of repartee. There is no flab in Ibragimova’s Bach: speeds and cues were on a knife-edge, yet the playing was so intimate and involving that the performance was over almost as soon as it began – it had that quicksilver quality that leaves the impression of every phrase being invented in the moment of execution.
Vasks’ half-hour concerto for violin and string orchestra, dating from 1977, is as much a prayer or hymn as a piece of concert music. Ibragimova lent it unexpected substance, projecting the consoling upward melodies unsentimentally and launching into the three heavyweight cadenzas with the sort of conviction and technical élan that sweeps you up in the musical argument.
The rest of the programme, involving the Britten Sinfonia Voices, was a mixed bag: clearly someone was trying to make links that, in the event, did not add up. First we heard a groundbreaking snatch of polyphony by the 12th-century French composer Pérotin. Then came a lush, feel-good piece by Vasks’ compatriot Eriks Esenvalds (b1977). Finally, a prim Bach motet. The whole concert, including Ibragimova’s performances, cried out for a less sterile context than the half-empty barn of Barbican Hall.