Alina Ibragimova in Bath

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The Russian violinist's debut with the Academy of Ancient Music was a triumph, says Rebecca Franks

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Four notes. That’s all it took for Alina Ibragimova to entrance her audience in the first of Bath’s Bachfest concerts, the new heir to the city’s former Bath Bach Festival. As she began to play, there was an instant, magical hush in the audience; the glitter of the glass chandeliers seemed to blur into the background. By the end of the fiendish solo violin piece, it scarcely seemed surprising that one audience member uttered a breathless but clearly audible ‘wow’.

JS Bach might be the raison d’etre of this two-day, three-concert series, but the four notes that the Russian violinist drew us in with weren’t from a work by him, but by the 17th-century violin virtuoso and composer Heinrich Biber. The simple four-note descending motif opens his magnificent, desolate Passacaglia, perhaps a model for Bach’s own famous D minor Chaconne for solo violin, and played here by Ibragimova with fearless technique and innocent wisdom.

Bach’s Sonata in E for violin and harpsichord (Alastair Ross joined Ibragimova) drew softer colours, the violin flickering like candlelight. Ibragimova’s natural ease in this repertoire shone through, as it did too in the Bach A minor Concerto, for which she was joined by the outstanding Academy of Ancient Music, marking her debut with them as a soloist and director.  Vivaldi’s L’inquietudine Concerto buzzed with restless energy; but even then the musicians seemed to find an extra ounce for the dizzying tempos of his D minor Concerto for two violins and cello, which also saw Rodolfo Richter and Joseph Crouch stepping into the spotlight.

Biber’s tongue-in-cheek Battalia was pulled off with panache. Written in 1673, this eight-movement work often feels as if it’s slipped through time to the 20th century, with col legno bow-tapping, snap pizzicatos, a dissonant movement which finds the ‘dissolute company’ (Biber’s words) all doing their own musical thing, a prepared cello à la John Cage which provides a backdrop for a military fife player – the soloist, who, in this performance, decided to hop off the stage and take a wander around the audience.

But it was back onto stage for the final number: another burst of E major Bach. At moments in the Concerto the tempos seemed on the edge of plausibility, but they never toppled over, and this was a performance of exquisite, lyrical joy. Ibragimova’s spontaneous smile at the end, so different from the fierce concentration with which she’d begun, seemed to echo the audience’s delight.

Rebecca Franks is reviews editor of BBC Music Magazine