Alina Ibragimova (violin)/The Quay Brothers (film), Barbican ‘Blaze’ Festival, Wilton’s Music Hall

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The Independent Culture

Great news: Wilton’s Music Hall is saved, at least for now. Last week this embattled venue, where the crumbliness is part of the charm, announced the success of a fundraising appeal without which it would have had to close.

It’s a gem of a place – and for the first London sighting of Alina Ibragimova’s solo violin project with ‘visualisations’ by the Quay Brothers, it proved an ideal home. This remarkable evening uniting music, film and architecture shivers with an elusive and ghostly beauty.

Conceived for the Manchester International Festival by its director, Alex Poot, the project had an 18-show run at Chetham’s School of Music, where it moved between pieces among the building’s medieval rooms. At Wilton’s we mostly stayed put while Ibragimova moved, opening with Berio’s dazzling Sequenza VIII on audience level, then raised a notch for the Bach D minor Chaconne. Biber’s Passacaglia from the Mystery Sonatas accompanied the interval at some distance as we wandered through the historic rooms surrounding the hall.

The climax was Bartók Solo Sonata, written for Yehudi Menuhin in 1943 while the exiled composer was seriously ill with leukaemia: the Quay Brothers’ film installation conjured Bartók’s inner world, sometimes tortured or surreal, sometimes finding celestial marvels in an image as simple as a carafe of water. Sepia and pewter tones, windswept dark trees, a flower-lined coffin, the opening and closing of a casement, all played their role. The Quay Brothers come close to creating visual music – their other ventures include a fascinating animation of Kandinsky for Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition with the pianist Mikhail Rudy. It was an inspired choice to hook them up with the accolade-drenched Ibragimova.

Perhaps the image that lingers most strongly is that of her Bach Chaconne: the young violinist in white and gold, side-lit to cast a gigantic shadow, as if she were at once an angel of light and one of death. But with such violin playing, we could have been anywhere and still emerged wonderstruck. Ibragimova isn’t just an intelligent musician with an adventurous mind; she positively oozes music. Her technical finesse enables her to make a beautiful sound in Bach with no vibrato, while her sense of fantasy shapes the Chaconne’s desperate poetry into a marvel as psychologically probing as the Bartók and as vivid as a film in its own right. Ever wondered why great musicians are called ‘artists’? Here’s the proof.