Alina Ibragimova (Huw Watkins Premiere)

Sonata in A minor for unaccompanied violin, BWV1003
Partita for solo violin [RPS/BBC commission: World premiere]
Five Melodies, Op.35a

Alina Ibragimova (violin)
Huw Watkins (piano) [Prokofiev]

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 6 November, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Huw Watkins’s substantial piece, written for Alina Ibragimova, stood up well in immediate comparison with the Bach sonata. Cast in five movements, it made quite an entrance with arresting double-stopped chords, progressing to concentrate on melodic figures whose start or end tends to be the open ‘G’ string – not necessarily a key centre, but a fulcrum between phrases. Movements two and four are cast as ‘Interludes’, pointing the focus at the slower third. Here the melodic material benefited from Alina Ibragimova’s strong projection, expanding Watkins’s principal idea of a theme that climbs steeply before falling back a step and floating slowly down to earth at the end.

These lyrical episodes were rudely interrupted by the pizzicato chord with which the second ‘Interlude’ closes and which serves as an up-beat to a whirlwind ‘Gigue’. Small fragments darted to and fro under Ibragimova’s fingers, mostly four-note snapshots. Not a danceable jig by any means – more a nightmarish episode, out of control in a musical sense but always firmly within Ibragimova’s capabilities. Overall this is a dramatic piece, not short of substance, and with a satisfying construction.

Having taken the applause as composer, Watkins assumed the role of pianist for a finely shaded account of Prokofiev’s Five Melodies. Originally written for soprano but now barely performed in that version, the five short movements transcribed effortlessly for violin.

Ibragimova certainly enjoyed the hazy opening of the second piece with some evocative pizzicato, making the most of the snappier folk rhythms that followed. The pair secured an enjoyable throwaway ending to the fourth, a brief but memorable invention, while throughout Watkins’s attentive piano-playing enhanced the pleasure.

There was quite a different sound for the opening piece. Bach’s Sonata predates the construction of Ibragimova’s violin by just eighteen years (1720 against 1738); the ensuing tone, virtually bereft of vibrato, was ideal. Higher notes were piercing but mostly well-defined.

A greater contrast in dynamics would have helped Bach’s magical echo effect in the final Allegro, and would have added even more definition to a technically superb account of the Fugue. A dramatic recitative ended the first movement with a flourish, while the Andante was spacious and well defined. Ibragimova gave the music plenty of room to breathe. Her relish of all three pieces in this recital was clear.

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