Sonatas for Piano and Violin:
in F, Op.24 (Spring)
in A, Op.12/2
in G, Op.96
Alina Ibragimova (violin) & Cedric Tiberghien (piano)
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: 23 February, 2010
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
This was the second of this fine duo’s three Wigmore Hall recitals of Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas. For anyone whose point of entry into these works – which offer a sort of distillation of Beethoven’s chamber style up to the cusp of his late period – is, say, sweet-toned Szeryng or voluptuous Grumiaux, the Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova couldn’t be more different, and she completely justifies all the fuss being made of her. Her tone is light and easy on vibrato, producing what could reasonably be described almost as a baroque sound. She is also very sparing with expressive weight and attack, revealing a prodigiously varied range of phrasing and colour through her superbly controlled technique, her bowing in particular. If this sounds a bit pale, detached and lacking spontaneity – well, it isn’t. Her phenomenal control gives her playing a sense of self-possession, maturity, freedom and ego-bypass, which, to say the least, is unusual in such a young (she was born in 1985) artist. And as if that wasn’t enough, all this is allied to her gifts of high musical intelligence and responsiveness. Her role in Beethoven’s sonatas was truly ear-opening.
Her partner in these works composed for piano and violin ensured that we took Beethoven’s point about equal musical opportunities. Cédric Tiberghien’s playing never failed to impress – connective, in general not so contained as Ibragimova, and inside the music to a degree that made the listener realise how the printed notes are only an approximation of what Beethoven was trying to express.
To hear how he subtly redefined Ibragimova’s other-worldly opening of the ‘Spring’ Sonata, almost subliminally suggesting more solid, Brahmsian possibilities of size and lyricism, set a standard of performance and communication that never faltered, and the two players continued to blur and stretch the boundaries of leadership in a benign, discursive dialogue that was fresh, natural and immensely satisfying. In the wonderful Adagio, Ibragimova proved once again that the best way to get people to listen is to speak quietly, and she conjured up a sustained, disembodied sound that served Beethoven’s romantic dreamscape beautifully.
The two players also had the measure of the gentle high spirits and extrovert charm of the second of the Opus 12 set, Beethoven more Beethovenian here in Opus 12 than in the more Haydnesque Opus 18 string quartets, but, in the first movement in particular, with no lack of subversive wit and deceptively sly self-effacement.
It’s quite a long way from the long phrases of the ‘Spring’ to the tighter, more elevated world of Opus 96, the last of the ten, and Ibragimova and Tiberghien tailored their performance accordingly, the distinction between solo and accompaniment even more diffuse, and expressed in playing of rare and non-histrionic refinement, a masterly partnership of yielding and assertion. The violin’s retreat into the velvety calm of the Adagio was unforgettable, and the slow variation in the finale, briefly marooning the music in a parallel universe, was a reminder, if one is needed, of Beethoven’s astonishing and consistent originality.
That, in the end, was what these two remarkable players gave us – the multi-faceted freshness of the music. So it’s just as well that all three recitals are being released on the Wigmore Hall Live label.
- The final recital is on May 25
- Wigmore Hall