In Istanbul's intimate Fulya Arts Centre, Alpaslan Ertüngealp directed up-close performances of Mendelssohn's “Italian” Symphony and Dvořák 's Cello Concerto with the Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra. Despite occasional lapses in technical precision, a compelling sense of emotional engagement in the concerto and thrilling vigour in the symphony made for a highly enjoyable concert.

Alpaslan Ertüngealp © Andrea Felvégi
Alpaslan Ertüngealp
© Andrea Felvégi

The highlight of the evening was cellist István Várdai's playing in the Dvořák. He produced a remarkable intensity of sound from the outset, filling each phrase with emotional weight and finding deep poignancy in the slow movement. The trickiest solo passages were well attended to, the best coming off with a certain bravura, but there was also impressive sensitivity in his brief stints of accompaniment in the second movement. The close interaction between Várdai and leader Bahar Biricik, produced through a good deal of eye contact and sense of enjoying the moment, made for an especially beautiful passage.

The orchestral playing was mostly sympathetic in accompaniment, with a few memorably excellent moments. Principal horn Ertugrul Köse gave his slow movement solos with particular beauty of sound and elegant phrasing. The clarinet accompaniment to Várdai was also very well shaped. The sharp-edged, incisive string sound was less helpful in the dry acoustic of the hall, throwing a bright spotlight at problems in ensemble and doing little for the romantic sensibilities of the piece. Conductor Alpaslan Ertüngealp nonetheless did a good job of highlighting the solo line and balancing the orchestra to it, and once the finale got going in its vigorous dance, things were taken with a degree of flamboyance. The excitement of Várdai's impassioned playing led to a stirring close and very enthusiastic reception.

Mendelssohn's sunny “Italian” Symphony, published as no. 4 but actually the third he composed, is a perennial favourite. The infectious sweep of the outer movements was particularly striking here; it was bold, gutsy Mendelssohn, with a brilliant swagger in the finale. Ertüngealp launched the first movement's opening woodwind triplets at a brisk speed, which the section did well to get their tongues around. The crisp, sharp string sound suddenly became incredibly useful in the jaunty first violin line, which fizzed along with gusto. Pleasingly, this strong sense of forward momentum was superbly maintained in an impressive display of stamina. The intimacy of the hall lent itself well to full appreciation of the intricate passing of string lines back and forth between sections, which was done with precision. Textures in the tutti passages were still quite thick, but on the whole it was brilliantly vivacious.

The two inner movements were similarly forward-looking. The steadily winding quaver figures of the Andante con moto brought a good sense of something slightly exotic, and the tempo very much emphasized the 'con moto' over the 'andante'. The lower strings fairly tramped along, somewhat heavy-footed in accompaniment. There was a more elegant touch to be admired in the central section of the third movement, where a lighter tone created a pleasantly charming effect.

The finale was attacked with renewed vigour. This was an almost brutal performance of the Salterello, the strings' accompaniment hammering away at the heel of the bow while the flutes danced energetically above. As in the first movement, Ertüngealp kept up a tremendous sense of energy to the end. He drove the intensity in the final pages, with fragments of his shattered baton flying into the front row at one point on the way to a thrilling conclusion. It was the same big sound with thick, sometimes cloudy textures, but it was brilliant fun.