This concert hit a five-star stride within minutes of starting, then just got better. After months of listening via streamings and recordings, for which bounty much thanks, the joy of hearing a full orchestra burst gloriously forth in Beethoven’s Fidelio Overture was almost too much to bear. A muffed early horn entry was soon forgotten as the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Glyndebourne’s resident period band, set about roasting these grateful bones.

Alina Ibragimova and Sir Mark Elder in rehearsal with the OAE
© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd | Richard Hubert Smith

Supersub conductor Sir Mark Elder spearheaded a two-part programme of music from Germany, the very country in which Glyndebourne’s music director, Robin Ticciati, found himself stranded. The second half consisted of a performance by Alina Ibragimova of the Brahms Violin Concerto in D major that was positively Stanislavskian in its intensity. The Russian virtuoso played barefoot in order (one imagines) to commune physically with Glyndebourne’s gorgeous acoustic, and she folded her whole body into her instrument so that every note felt wrenched directly from the flesh. That description may seem over-egged but it can’t be helped; you might have thought the same if you’d been there. Ibragimova eked out the celebrated first-movement cadenza as if she were extemporising it from scratch – a startling sustained effect – while she and Elder were of one accord throughout the opening movement’s heavenly length, a span that passed in a snap of the fingers. It was the same with the succeeding movements; indeed, I have rarely heard the finale played so cleanly yet vehemently, as all the musicians (with a special nod to the eloquent oboe of Daniel Bates) shared an impassioned response to Elder’s lead.

David Butt Philip in rehearsal
© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd | Richard Hubert Smith

The concerto had followed without a break from the aforementioned overture together with three flagship extracts from Beethoven’s only opera. The solo singers, both of whom had been scheduled to perform their roles at Glyndebourne’s cancelled summer festival this year, sang an aria each and then, as their envoi, shared the joyous reconciliation duet “O namenlose Freude!”. Emma Bell luxuriated in her own vocal power, as well she might, in an excoriating account of “Abscheulicher!”, Leonora’s outpouring of rage against Don Pizarro’s ruthless intransigence. She sang with the power of a lioness unfettered after months in a cage.

If Bell was startling, David Butt Philip seemed determined to trump his co-star from his first utterance. Florestan’s gut-wrenched, soul-shattered opening to Act 2, “Gott! Welch Dunkel hier!”, is a prodigious entrance aria at the best of times, and Butt Philip didn’t hold back. The tenor first feathered then widened the hairpin on his opening invocation until the word “Gott” erupted into a howl that shook the Glyndebourne foundations. Has he got his eye on a future in Wagner? It would come as no surprise.

*****