This concert exploded into life with Weber’s overture from Euryanthe. Guest conductor Walter Weller displayed economy of movement but set the orchestra off at a cracking pace, creating an upbeat mood that was sustained throughout the evening. Although the opera is rarely heard in its entirety, the overture encapsulates the hero’s two great themes, with the drama of martial music from woodwind and brass giving way to the lyrical eloquence of legato strings. Combining the two themes in a fugal development was as fascinating to watch in the hands of the CBSO as it was to hear, with the various elements expertly balanced and controlled as they were passed around. An exuberant final flourish conveyed a feeling of triumph, which set the audience up nicely for the treat in store.

Yossif Ivanov © Eric Larrayadieu
Yossif Ivanov
© Eric Larrayadieu

Recently heard at the Last Night of the Proms, Bruch’s Violin Concerto must surely be a favourite of many, with its passion, expression and energy. It was written when the composer was only in his twenties, with several revisions before he was satisfied with it, and it’s even more remarkable since his own instrument was the piano rather than the violin. The concerto’s success, he claimed, was that “the violin can sing a melody better than the piano can, and melody is the heart of music”. The young Belgian-born Yossif Ivanov has been dubbed by Diapason as “one of the top violinists of tomorrow”, and I suspect nobody in tonight’s audience would argue with that. Definitely one to watch. His 1699 “Lady Tennant” Stradivarius seemed to be an extension of his body, so at one was he with the music. Indeed, during the passages where the orchestra took over and his violin fell silent, so absorbed did he remain that he either stood with head bowed or staring right up into the ceiling. As such, I wondered whether the connection with the audience was a little lost. But if whistles, cheers and three curtain-calls are anything to go by, this didn’t seem to be a problem for most!

Prefaced by softly rumbling timpani and gentle woodwind, the violin enters with a spellbinding long note on the open G string. This opening Allegro moderato movement evokes an atmosphere of improvisation, and it was captivating to witness Ivanov’s variations in tempo after a tantalisingly slow introduction. While the solo violin made a thorough exploration of anything and everything to do with G minor, the orchestra quietly supported in the background, then they were given their moment in the spotlight and responded with joyful vigour. The precision of the brass was electrifying as they heralded the reintroduction of the soloist for the Adagio. Once again, I was smitten by Ivanov’s control of the long notes, which materialised apparently from nowhere and threatened to go way beyond what the length of a bow would legitimately allow. Then came the wonderfully contrasting Finale, with the dancing Hungarian sprung rhythms and double-stopped chords, during which one couldn’t help but smile. For me, this movement had the edge, as it was at this point that soloist and conductor displayed the closest rapport, stepping up the intensity of this stunning music.

By this stage the occasion was having an infectious effect upon my neighbours, at a guess Conservatoire students, who were compelled surreptitiously to mime the violin fingering during Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 5. And I imagine many people will have left the Hall humming the memorable “Fate” theme, developed in various directions through the symphony, with masterful use of minimal material, having been moved by the journey from darkness to light. The initial phrases setting up this theme, a martial leitmotif followed by descending scales, seemed somewhat tentative, but with gathering pace and a fuller sound the orchestra relaxed into the piece, drawing out delightful textures. The second movement – Andante cantabile – began with a glorious passage of chords in the low strings, followed by a poignantly romantic horn solo, justifiably resulting in special applause for the horn player. The woodwind and brass were also particularly fine, taking us through a range of scenarios from mellow to menacing and back. The Finale is full of drama and surprises: drum rolls adding to a sense of mounting urgency, juxtaposed against an arresting slow coda. This thought-provoking and entertaining performance went down very well indeed with the Symphony Hall crowd.