United Kingdom Mozart: Alina Ibragimova (violin), Cedric Tiberghien (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 30.4.20 15 (GD)
Sonata in B flat K454
Sonata in G K 27
Sonata in C K296
Sonata in F K 547
Sonata in B flat K 31
Sonata in D K 306
This recital was part of a complete survey of Mozart’s Violin Sonatas by Ibragimova and Tiberghien as part of the Wigmore Hall’s Mozart Odyssey. Mozart composed sonatas for violin and piano from his earliest composing years (around 1762) up to the year of his last composition in this form in 1788, a remarkably rich year for Mozart in which he composed such masterpieces as the last three symphonies and the superb Divertimento for string trio K563. Many of the very early sonatas were composed when Mozart was on European tour with his father and older sister Nannerl.
At that time violin sonatas were a popular form with the pre-revolutionary aristocracy of Europe. Mozart composed and played violin sonatas in such cultural centres as Paris, the Hague and London. The violin sonata had previously been advocated by such composers as J C Bach who certainly influenced the young Mozart. At this time the violin would have been accompanied by a harpsichord,a playing style Mozart at this time would have known and adopted.
Tonight’s recital was nicely balanced with sonatas from his early years, his middle and late periods. It opened with the splendid Sonata in B flat K 454. Mozart writes enthusiastically to his father that he composed this sonata to be played in Vienna 1784 in the presence of Emperor Joseph II for the Italian violin virtuoso Regina Strinasacchi from Mantua. Here we hear to what extent Mozart had developed the form, with a much more elaborate piano part – from the outset – no longer just there to accompany but having its own voice. Also there is a marvellous sense of conversational interplay between the two players The sonata opens with a majestic Largo with impressive and solemn piano interjections creating a wonderful sense of contrast. The Allegro is full of charm and self-confidence with an arresting touch of counterpoint in the development. The wonderful Andante in E flat is a deeply poetic meditation not without a note of melancholy. This would have suited Strinasacchi’s fondness for ‘slow, cantabile playing. The finale, marked Allegretto, is a delightful rondo with four expositions of the opening melody punctuated by a contrasting F major episode. I wonder how Strinasacchi delivered music of such finesse and originality? We will never know exactly, although the fact that Mozart spoke so highly of her as a violinist tells us a lot.
But, for this review, and more to the point – how did Ibragimova and Tiberghien manage these amazing works? Well, in overall terms we heard some pretty impressive musicianship throughout, but I am not sure that Ibragimova’s full toned playing entirely suited Mozart’ idiom here; at times it sounded more suited to later ‘romantic’ music. Violinists like Rachel Podger and Andrew Manze here come over as much more here. This is quite strange as her playing of say the sonatas and partitas for solo violin by Bach, both ‘live’ and on CD, are perfectly tuned in terms of the baroque style idiom. Also I would have much preferred the piano part to have been played on a period forte-piano: Tiberghien’s big modern Steinway Grand did not always capture the mercurial delicacy of Mozart’s design, and occasionally he sounded rather four-square. But for most of the recital there was a good sense of dialogue and conversation between the two, though this was not consistent, the two seeming at times to lose each other. Composed in Amsterdam in 1766, K 27, with its ornate opening Andante poco Adagio left me feeling amazed that a ten year old could write such sonorous and economic music, with a really brilliant transition in to the poco adagio, and a discreetly placed minor key section in the concluding elegant Allegro. Mozart composed K 296 in Mannheim but held it back for performance in Paris in the summer of 1778. It is a brilliant work in the Mannheim Galant style, indeed the opening Allegro vivace ,where the piano takes a more prominent role, reminded me of the first movement of the great Piano Sonata for four-hands in D major, K448, of 1781 in its energy and virtuoso elegance. Tiberghien played well, although I missed the stylish agility of Richard Egarr in the recording with Andrew Manze. Also here I had the sense that Ibragimova really wanted to move things on more. The Andante with its soaring upward figurations, and the the rondo finale, with its shifts to and from major and minor, were all performed with a keen perception.
As tonight’s programme note writer Misha Donat points out, Mozart’s last Violin Sonata K 547 (1788), ‘makes a curious postscript to the series’. In short, as Donat continues, it is simply not in the same musical class as the already mentioned great masterpieces of that year, especially the three last great symphonies and the Piano Trio in E flat major K542. But at this time Mozart was in desperate need of an income, and often resorted to training amateurs which involved the composition of relatively easy, (‘technically undemanding’) pieces. Mozart entered the work in his catalogue as ‘a little piano sonata for beginners’. At first the work does indeed seem to be for beginners, but as the initial Andante cantabile unfolds and leads into the allegro initially stated on the piano we notice the subtle perfection of the transition, also the C major second subject arriving with the greatest tonal finesse and enjoying an artless fusion and unity with the violin. It seems to be widely thought now that Mozart was undecided as to whether to complete the work as a .marketable piano work or as a violin sonata. The finale is a masterful theme with six variations (as in the Violin Sonata K 481). These are wonderfully composed with extraordinary modulations, and in the fifth variation in F minor a miraculous lesson (condensed in form) pertaining to counterpoint. But again it is very likely that Mozart would have intended these variations as a separate composition, especially as the sonata’s form seems more complete without them. It is very possible that we will never know the real facts subtending Mozart’s last sonata in this form. But, as it stands, Ibragimova and Tiberghien, gave a splendid rendition of the piece, especially in the final variation movement, where each variation was inflected with its own seemingly simple character, while never losing sight of the whole design. Arthur Schnabel once said, referring to the earlier piano sonatas; ‘They use these pieces for beginners, but even the most experienced pianists (himself included) find them enormously difficult in their seeming simplicity’. This certainly applies to K547.
The remaining two works in the recital went well, especially K 306 with its scintillating finale and tempo changes, and long bravura cadenza for both players. Occasionally, with Ibragimova, there were a few fluffs and tuning problems, also a few glaring wrong notes with Tiberghien, especially in K 306. But this was nearing the end of the second half of a long recital, and such minor flaws did not seriously impair the overall enjoyment of some of Mozart’s most extraordinary music.