Corelli might never have heard his “Christmas Concerto” with a socially-distanced ripieno group of nearly thirty strings. Full-fat festivity then, and although the playing was often crisp and alert, something of Corelli’s intimate charm went missing. Still it was good to hear the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra strings exploring their own origins. The Corellian concerto celebrates 17th-century Italian violin making, training, and playing – without that legacy, no symphonies, concertos or even orchestras. So a large modern group owes it this homage.

Alina Ibragimova and the BSO
© Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

We were now served a triple-decker sandwich, three arias from Handel’s Messiah separated by two concertos from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The two most played works of the Baroque yoked together in a sort of voice-and-violin mashup. It ought not to work, but somehow it very nearly did, thanks to the musical personalities of the two soloists. Anna Devin’s soprano would doubtless have been in demand for a dozen Messiahs in any other year, since she sang her three arias beautifully. The pick was “Rejoice greatly”, because it showed more of Devin’s stylistic command, with lyrical poise in slow music and dexterity in coloratura passages. I imagine that all she wants for Christmas is a real trill, but Santa has been stingy with those for decades.

Anna Devin and the BSO
© Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

But he was generous with his gifts in Alina Ibragimova’s childhood. As soloist, chamber musician, player on historic or modern instruments, and from the Baroque to new music, she is a leading figure of her generation. She defended the inescapable Four Seasons in a pre-concert interview, pointing out that among the joys of this ubiquitous “please hold the line” music was that its onomatopoeic effects give the soloist great freedom. She clearly enjoyed that freedom, leading the ensemble from the violin herself. In a fast opening to Winter she gave us the chattering teeth of a loose denture-wearer on a rickety train line, then a Largo of flowing tempo, smiling as if she had found some unknown music and was delighted to share it.

From the Italians to the Saxon who learned so much from them. Bach’s First Orchestral Suite is not the obvious choice to close a concert since its last page provides a far from emphatic conclusion. But Robert Howarth directed a commanding performance of the French overture at the outset and much that followed. And in the figuration of the closing Passepied, veteran oboist Edward Kay played immaculately some of the most decorative passages ever given to his instrument. 

This performance was reviewed from the Bournemouth SO's live video stream