Review: Regis School of Music’s 25th Anniversary Concert

REVIEW By Richard Amey

Thursday, 23rd September 2021, 2:20 pm
Alina Ibragimova with Alexander and Nina Levtov by Phonocord.com

Alina Ibragimova MBE, solo violin, gives Regis School of Music’s 25th Anniversary Public Concert at The Recital Hall, Sudley Road, Bognor Regis on Sunday, September 19 (7.30). JS Bach, Partita No 2 in D minor BWV1004; Paganini, 24 Caprices, Nos 13 19 24; Ysaye, Violin Sonata No 3 ‘Ballade’.

The house was full, the atmosphere thick with wonder and awe like something never before. Bringing a world-class artiste to the people of its home town and West Sussex is not an everyday possibility at Regis School of Music. But if Silver was the celebration cause, gold was what came.

Alina Ibragimova’s breathtaking solo-violin 2015 BBC Proms appearance in the Royal Albert Hall was reproduced in intimate, communal miniature. Just her, in stylish split-leg black trousers and tank top, wavy earrings, plus her virtuoso companions and conspirators Bach the German, Paganini the Italian and Ysaye the Belgian – plus the rapt audience. She and this music came raw, ready, rebellious, reactionary, revelatory, ravishing, replete.

Her 1775, Anselmo Bellasio violin, evoking, emoting, exploding, erupting out from the charmingly small stage built years ago yet now, seemingly as if just for her – British-born, Russian blood – heart, mind, memory – wood, metal, gut. With such absorbing music, solitary yet universal, dramatic but heartfelt, as well as unbridled exuberant, her connection with her listeners was direct, instant, immutable, inescapable and literally stunning.

An audience thrown onto the back foot. Solo violin, live: this for many, maybe a once-a-lifetime experience. Listeners, minds captured, struggled at first to convert reaction into the physical act of applause as the opening Partita, which seems to contemplate the whole gamut of being alive, completed its elongated Chaconne – which Ibragimova’s insight and authentic historical Baroque approach turned into a 250-year-old mini epic.

Things then got even more virtuosic, Ibragimova casting her fiddle as a blunt as well as beautiful instrument.

In Paganini’s 13th Caprice, ‘The Devil’s Laughter’, Ibragimova’s dexterity, articulation and imagination brought Satan, sneering, scowling and spitting, leering out from eerie darkness straight into your face. When it ended the audience didn’t know whether to roar, or run for it. She had No 19’s crazed bottom G string savagely attacking and belittling the trembling, almost strangulated high top E.

Then the closing “I know that tune!” No 24, which Paganini dedicated to himself, ‘in my grave’ . . . had Paganini a pact with the devil, 19th century musos were enquiring, or was he even the devil himself? Ibragimova had all agog, and then disbelieving when the both-hands spizzicato bit arrived. Ysaye’s swiftly-told story Sonata simply flashed past as the bravura and astonishment brimmed over. Nothing could follow.

Presenting high-level performers is part of its outreaching assurance and commitment in the ethos of school principals Alexander and Nina Levtov. They succeed in sending students forth into the professional ranks. The concert interval began with Bognor deputy mayor, councillor John Barrett, a retired engineer and guitar-learning beginner, publicly congratulating them on these key things.

The Levtovs first settled in the town 41 years ago and this Silver Jubilee celebration was ostensibly conceived by Alexander way back, after only one of those 25 years. The famous Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey, linked to Regis School of Music, were giving a concert as part of their performance experience-building.

Among these children, both under the same teacher, a colleague of the Levtovs, were Nicola Benedetti and Alina Ibragimova. Alexander triumphantly recalled: “Alina, who was 12, was standing over by the big street window of our Recital Hall. I went over and asked her, ‘When you are famous, will you come back here and play for us?’ And she said, ‘Ooh, yes.’”

Alina, now a few days short of her 36th birthday, remembered that: “Yes, we were preparing for the Menuhin Violin Competition. I can’t remember everything I played then, but I did do Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole.” She’d have played the solo violin with a piano playing the orchestral part.

Time was when the London Mozart Players regularly visited Esplanade Theatre. Bognor’s fifth heyday theatre to disappear, it closed and was demolished in April 1980 – the very year of the Levtovs’ arrival in town.

Now, as the concert closed, two Regis School pupils helped Alexander Levtov with the three bouquets Regis Music School wanted Alina Ibragimova to take home to London. Isaac Kuroswki, 10, now a grade 3 violinist who also plays piano, was one. The other was Elena Dew, 12, a pianist whose elder brother James is striding onward with a Regis School of Music badge on his cello case.

In the National Children’s Orchestra, James Dew took part in Ibragimova’s workshop on Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’ Four Seasons concerto during her momentous 2015 BBC Proms season. Now, at this summer’s Proms, James completed three years in the National Youth Orchestra at the Albert Hall with Nicola Benedetti performing Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto. He now enters the Royal College of Music to study under cello guru Raphael Wallfisch.

This remarkable Regis MS event on Sunday left me musing with Alina Ibragimova afterwards about the power and privilege of giving an entire solo concert on one instrument, bringing that opportunity to overwhelm an audience completely by oneself. Certain others do this – pianists, harpsichordists, organists, cellists, harpists, lutenists, classical or folk-classical guitarists (eg. Gordon Giltrap).

Then I found myself comparing the equivalent potential of another hugely charismatic but modern instrument, the electric rock guitar, to hold an audience for 75 minutes. That comparison didn’t last very long.

Alexander Levtov teaches classical guitar. But on this night, a different insgrument was supreme. “The sounds of Alina's violin are still reverberating in our hearts,” he said, “and the 26th season at the RSM has had a spectacular start!”

Richard Amey