Schumann wrote his Violin Concerto in D minor at the instigation of the virtuoso Joseph Joachim, who urged him to draw out a treasure from his ‘deep quarry’.
But this was at a time when the composer’s body and mind were starting their final disintegration, and the first performance misfired. Clara Schumann disliked the work, and wanted its manuscript destroyed; it only resurfaced when Yehudi Menuhin enthusiastically re-premiered it 80 years later – declaring it the missing link between the Beethoven and Brahms concerti - but even today it’s seldom played.
Supported by the London Symphony Orchestra under John Eliot Gardiner, Alina Ibragimova set out to make the strongest possible case for this missing link. It opens with Handelian grandeur, then settles into a soulful mode for which this young violinist’s expressively lyrical sound was well suited: not big, but very sweet and pure.
That things did not catch fire was due to the work, not the performers: the violin never released Schumann’s genius as the piano did, and this piece – redolent of very early Brahms – showed the embers of his creativity dying in the grate.
The rest of the evening was given over to Mendelssohn, with his ‘Italian Symphony’ on its tunefully charming best behaviour.