Violin Concerto No.1 in A-minor, Op.77
Violin Concerto No.2 in C-sharp minor, Op.129
Alina Ibragimova (violin)
State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia ‘Evgeny Svetlanov’
No.2 recorded at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, Moscow, 7 & 8 February 2019; No.1 at the Museum and Exhibition Complex, ‘New Jerusalem’, Moscow, 3, 4 & 7 July 2019
Reviewed by: David Gutman
Reviewed: August 2020
CD No: HYPERION CDA68313
Duration: 71 minutes
No need to reinvent Shostakovich as a samizdat cryptographer to see these works in a sympathetic, nonconformist light – but then authenticity in Shostakovich is always a vexed issue. Politics apart, his Communist-era friends and colleagues were too talented a group to produce carbon copies of each other’s interpretations. The present enterprise, not Soviet of course, perhaps looks more Russian than it is.
The sound-recording personnel, Erdo Groot, Sébastien Chonion and Elena Sych, are plainly a cosmopolitan bunch. What of the main protagonists? Accent notwithstanding, Alina Ibragimova moved from Moscow to London when she was ten, while Vladimir Jurowski can add German-training and residency to links with those cities. The involvement of his State Symphony Orchestra of Russia (Academic or otherwise) is claimed as a project selling point.
Its cellos and basses do indeed give a distinctive heft to Shostakovich’s sepulchral meanderings at the very start of the First Violin Concerto, helped by Jurowski’s propensity for clarity of articulation and reluctance to dip below the piano marking. It would however be a stretch to claim that this gives us a special entrée into the composer’s world.
Vestigial and edgy ‘Soviet’ brass and biting strings are also offered by the Russian National Orchestra for the thirty-something Moscow-born virtuoso Ivan Pochekin (Profil) as by Valery Gergiev’s Mariinsky team for Vadim Repin (ArtHaus DVD). Daniel Hope sought to trump timbral authenticity by collaborating with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the composer’s son (Virgin Classics); Maxim Vengerov joined with Mstislav Rostropovich and the LSO in the Barbican, Abbey Road (for Warner Classics) and beyond. You pays your money and you takes your choice.
Although other players have done so in concert, the present release may be the one audio recording in which the soloist plays the Finale’s opening theme (Repin does so only on DVD). That was the composer’s original intention before David Oistrakh suggested that violinists might require a break after the cadenza. More important though is the particular distinction a gifted soloist can bring throughout.
Not perhaps a player for the biggest halls, Alina Ibragimova cannot muster the refulgent line of Oistrakh or Leonid Kogan. She compensates with the detail and variety of her song, fearless in the more difficult passages. The narrow thread of tone that is her default setting is rarely left unmodified, whether fined down to an almost inaudible whisper or cranked up into a feisty eruption of sound. I cannot say whether you will consider this an unmixed blessing. Nicola Benedetti presumably had such performances in mind when, in connection with her own recording of No.1, she reflected on the long shadow cast by its dedicatee. Where Oistrakh had the moral authority and life experience to play the work with what she called his “luscious free sound”, it was understandable that youthful performers felt the need to go further to bring out the terror in the music. “The danger is that we play the fast movements with the ugliest sound we can produce and then play the slow movement with absolutely no vibrato, as if we are actually dying on the stage.”
As with Daniel Hope so here with Ibragimova the results are, one supposes, meant to be uncomfortable, exposed octaves and double-stopping reimagined as cries of pain rather than constituting technical challenges to be finessed away. To my ears some of Ibragimova’s manoeuvres risk drawing attention to themselves instead of sweeping us up in the emotion of the music but then there are those who would query Vengerov’s throbbing vibrato and Rostropovich’s dependably projected gloom.
I was ready for Ibragimova’s defter chamber-music precision but not the extent to which she leads from the front (as balanced). The Scherzo is sensibly paced without disruptive speed changes yet the sinewy quality of her attack makes it feel quite novel. In this symphonic concerto the final two movements, respectively labelled Passacaglia and Burlesca in deference to Bach’s purity of language and Mahler’s dirty realism, are linked by the increasingly frenzied reflections of the soloist alone. With Jurowski’s band providing the formal underpinning, Ibragimova can afford to be positively brawny at times in the Passacaglia but it is that intervening cadenza – which some consider a movement in its own right – that finds her at her most intense. Beginning more deliberately than usual, she creates a creepy, almost extra-terrestrial mood. With harsh, intrusive accents strewn like space debris along the way (a Schnittke-like uglification) the tempo is ratcheted up until the energy peaks, the dam bursts and we arrive at the Finale and that unorthodox initial statement for the violin. What follows is hectic rather than extrovert, the coda accelerating into mania.
As is often the case when these works are presented together, the later Violin Concerto makes a slightly muted impression for all that Ibragimova is no passive interpreter, forever seeking out extra pockets of colour and emotion and matching Jurowski in the enthusiastic articulation of rhythm. On the threshold of the Finale she seems to be imitating the aggressive-sounding muted horns as much as dialoguing with them. Whether she holds the key to its Oistrakh-inspired, Odessa-driven idiom is another matter. While sympathetic microphone placement means that she is never swamped, a certain nobility and reflection go AWOL.
In physical format the accompanying notes by Robert Matthew-Walker are reproduced in the label’s customarily small, just-about-decipherable typeface. The package is nonetheless beautifully designed with attractive artwork and a full list of the players. The music-making it contains is as provocative and singular as anything in Ibragimova’s burgeoning catalogue.