On an evening of excellence, a performance of Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major, K364 took pride of place in the Beethoven-Saal, Stuttgart. Alina Ibragimova and Nils Mönkemeyer turned out to be the perfect couple while the camerawork covered the action like it was a soccer match.

Alina Ibragimova and Nils Mönkemeyer with the SWR Symphony Orchestra
© SWR

Marc Minkowski started off the SWR Symphony Orchestra at a good clip with a rich abundance of texture and inner life that pulsed with the divided violas at the core of the string section. Ibragimova and Mönkemeyer entered, sounding like the light and dark sides of a violin – her eyes so locked in on his at times that you could swear they were having an affair – and Mozart followed. They allowed their free musical passion and gorgeous timbres to be swept away as the music affected them, they didn't resort to any predictable stratagems or interpretive approaches, although they know HIP inside out. They abandoned many of the long legato bowings that make sense in different kinds of interpretation. Their cadenza was more serenely spontaneous about affection than about being a cadenza; they never gave in to the temptation to do more than Mozart wrote, and their final trill was preceded by the string player's familiar nervous tic of a plucked open string which you only get when they are deeply immersed.

The intensity of the cadenza in the Andante exceeded anything that had come previously, more deeply into the sounds of their instruments; it was appropriate that the French horns sounded a sad farewell to the movement as if it had been an aria. The competition between violin and viola heated up in the Presto; flashing their way to the end, Ibragimova threw in heartbreaking portamenti and flirty staccati, Mönkemeyer almost destroyed his viola with his four violent up-bows preceding his final trill before Ibragimova picked up the gauntlet and finished with four lightning down-bows that ignited her final trill. Amazing. Masks back on, exeunt the players.

The concert opened with a Haffner Symphony of lean but sumptuous weight, broad string playing, internal clarity and punch in which Minkowski fostered a comprehensive dialogue between the instrumental sections and colors. The clarinets gave the overall fabric a seductive warmth and sounded wonderfully exotic in the occasional solo passages they had, the woodwinds overall played their key linking passages with Mozartian moaning sighs. The momentum continued through the first movement's double bar as if the music had been conceived as one long thought.

Marc Minkowski
© SWR

The Andante was graceful, its slight melodies overwhelmed at times by the tick-tock accompaniment; no matter how sweetly it sang there was always a bit of delicious business going on underneath. After a Menuetto and Trio that marched to the sounds of trumpets and drums, the SWR raced through the Presto as much as they dared, with the double bass section champion in those 8th-note passages that every orchestral audition calls for. The Symphony ended highly exhilarating and triumphantly safe at home.

Despite the beauties, mastery and good-natured charm of both the performance of Haydn's Symphony no. 98 in B flat major and of the symphony itself, which followed a 15-minute discussion intermission, it didn't really belong on the stage with the two Mozart pieces. It couldn't match them for the sheer brilliance of their flashes of inspiration, for the energy of their genius, nor for the opportunities it gave two great soloists to shine; when juxtaposed this way it was striking that Haydn's symphony was composed 13 years after the Sinfonia concertante.

Unfortunate juxtaposition aside, there were many lovely things in the performance including the cello solo in the Adagio, the refreshingly swift, even brash pace and attitude of the Menuetto, and the gorgeous sound, like liquid metal being poured into gold bars, of Tanguy de Williencourt's fortepiano in the endearing, iconic solo just before the end of the Presto, that Haydn would have played himself.


This performance was reviewed from the SWR live video stream

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