On Brahms, Elgar and blood transfusions

Tifu and Andrianov and the PEP players in the midst of Brahms’ Double Concerto.

BEIT MERY: All cultural institutions have their detractors. For its critics, Festival Al-Bustan’s main shortcoming is a matter of age.

Much of the six-week-long music event’s program is drawn from the European classical canon – which, as conventional imprecision would have it, embraces work from the Medieval to the Romantic periods. So there is little here that’s new, even recent. Demographics being what they are, much of the audience, too, is mature.

Tradition, however, revives itself with regular transfusions of fresh blood. This aphorism was demonstrated with great energy and skill Tuesday evening as Al-Bustan commenced its 20th season at the Emile Bustani Auditorium. The evening’s playlist was comprised of Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major Op. 77, Elgar’s Cello concerto and Brahms’ Double Concerto Op. 102 – familiar works from the late-19th and early-20th century repertoire.

Solo duties were shouldered by a pair of top-notch, soloists of more recent vintage – Italian violinist Anna Tifu (born 1986) and Russian cellist Boris Andrianov (born 1976).

Complementing the soloists, both in youth and level of professionalism, was the Pan-European Philharmonia. Founded in 2008, this young, quite fine, ensemble of players performed under the baton of 30-something maestro Gianluca Marciano, Al-Bustan’s music director.

The evening got rolling with the Brahms Violin Concerto, a work that’s wormed its way into the pop culture consciousness on the strength of the fiery dialogues between soloist and the orchestral strings – notably as rendered by Anne-Sophie Mutter. The vascular to-ing and fro-ing of the allegro giocoso (the final movement), may be among the most frequently recorded, played and generally sampled works in the repertoire for virtuoso violin.

The vessel for this solo work Tuesday evening wasn’t Anne-Sophie Mutter, of course, but Anna Tifu. Having made her solo debut with the Orchestra National de Pays de La Loire at the tender age of 11 and performed at La Scala the following year, she has already burnt through the “prodigy” stage of her career.

She’s been winning firsts in competitions since 1994 and, presumably in recognition of her not inconsiderable talent, Tifu performs on a violin made by Carlo Bergonzi – provenance Cremona 1739 – on loan from Milan’s Associazione Pro Canale.

Now 27 years of age, Tifu stands at the crossroads between maturity and celebrity. There is some evidence for the temptation of the latter. As Al-Bustan’s catalogue sees fit to note, Tifu was among the faces of Al Italia in 2011 – a distinction she shared with Riccardo Muti, Gabriele Tornatore and Eleonora Abbagnato.

As physically alluring as she is musically gifted, Tifu may be among the few violin virtuosi whose online profile includes a photo of her posing in a bikini. One of the websites devoted to her career has more photos of the violinist draped picturesque over antique furniture than information about her work.

Apparently distracted by her playing, Al-Bustan’s capacity audience seemed unconcerned with the implied contradiction of appearance and substance – aside from the gentleman of the press who remarked with approval to his colleague upon Tifu’s choice of formal wear.

The first impression Tifu conveys on stage, her head shaking to keep tempo, is eagerness. Playing along with the orchestra in the opening moments of the first movement, this enthusiasm seemed to verge on impatience. If she was anxious to climb into the music, it made no audible impact upon her solo work.

As PEP escorted Tifu through Brahms’ adagio, then along the well-worn path of the allegro giocoso, her energetic bow work did little to detract from her precision or her notable sweetness of timbre.

Elgar’s Cello concerto is, if anything, even better known than the Brahms. In the late 1960s, proprietary rights over the work passed to U.K. cellist Jacqueline Du Pre, who made it her signature work. Herself an immensely talented, and fetching, prodigy, Du Pre rocketed through the celebrity stratosphere until the early 1970s, when she collided with MS, a premature retirement and early death.

The concerto’s tragic legacy evidently had little impact on Boris Andrianov, this evening’s soloist, whose muscular approach to Elgar’s often plaintive lyricism went far to purge the work of the layers of sentimentality that have accumulated through its history.

By the time the interval had lapsed, their vocabulary of accolades exhausted, the gentlemen of the press set their notebooks aside and enjoyed Tifu, Andrianov and PEP’s enervating rendition of Brahms’ Double Concerto Op. 102.

The insistent tune that runs through the concluding vivace non troppo is delimited by a dialogue between staccato violin and sonorous cello.

Here, the interplay of masculine cello and feminine violin made this well-known conversation seem somehow more resonate.

The audience was divided as to whether it was best to sprint for the parking lot or demand an encore. In the end they had to content themselves with a series of curtain calls from the evening’s celebrities.

Anna Tifu and Boris Andrianov will reprise their performance with The Pan-European Philharmonia at Festival Al-Bustan on Thursday evening. For more information call 04-972-981 or 04-9729-80.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 21, 2013, on page 16.




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