Ibragimova and Tiberghien Bring Penetrating Musicianship and Much Else to Mozart

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart: Alina Ibragimova (violin), Cédric Tiberghien (piano), Wigmore Hall, London 27.10.2015 (CS)

Mozart: Sonatas for Piano and Violin

Sonata in F K.377
Sonata in Bb K.8
Variations on ‘Au bord d’une fountaine’ (‘Hélas, j’ai perdi mon amant’) K.360
Sonata in C K.303
Sonata in C K.403
Sonata in F K.13
Sonata in C K.28
Sonata in Eb K.26
Sonata in Bb K.378

Alina Ibragimova doesn’t do things in half measures, as her remarkable performances, from memory, of the six solo sonatas and partitas by J.S. Bach at this year’s Proms confirmed.  The quiet focus, unstinting concentration and discreet musical sensitivity which she demonstrated during those late-night concerts was similarly in evidence during this recital the Wigmore Hall, where Ibragimova and pianist Cédric Tiberghien continued their five-concert account of Mozart’s complete works for piano and violin, presenting works composed during the young prodigy’s first European tour during the 1760s, as well as more mature sonatas written when Mozart sought to establish himself as a freelance composer and pianist in Vienna in the early 1780s.

Mozart’s first published compositions were two volumes of sonatas for keyboard and violin.  Given that the composer was just eight years old, he might be forgiven for adding a violin part to a pre-existing work for piano, as was the case with the Allegro of the Sonata in Bb K.8.  But this does draw attention to the fact that these works are very much for piano and violin: in no sense does the piano assume a subordinate or accompanying role.  What was remarkable about this performance, then, was the balanced partnership achieved by Ibragimova and Tiberghien, with each player intimately aware of the demands and status of both instrumental parts, and how they contribute to the whole.  They spun a continuous, evolving dialogue, in which melodies and gestures passed from piano to violin, and back again, each detail carefully considered but the presentation never fussy.  In this way, the performers were able to capture the distinct mood of each sonata, creating a strong musical narrative during the evening.

Ibragimova’s approach was unwaveringly ‘serious’: she gave the same care and attention to the briefest of accompaniment gestures as she did to principal themes, modulating her bow speed and pressure with an assurance which conveyed both immense thoroughness of preparation and deep affinity with the spirit of the music.  Vibrato was used fairly sparingly; the violin tone was clean and focused, and spoke clearly through the piano’s busier passages.  Tiberghien demonstrated an infinite variety of touch, achieving a remarkable level of clarity and definition; he drew attention, in particular, to movement within the inner voices and to ‘energising’ motifs in the left hand that might otherwise be disregarded by the listener.  Both players employed a wide dynamic range, and the melodic phrasing was nuanced and elegant.  Tiberghien, especially, seemed able to switch effortlessly and immediately from vigorous passagework to cantabile melodies of utterly beautiful simplicity.  Indeed, the sheer diversity of moods created by the duo was one of the most impressive aspects of the performance.

The Sonata in F K.377, with which the players opened the recital, demonstrates the intensity of Mozart’s late chamber music style, and also presents challenges for the violinist in the face of the piano part’s relentless torrents of virtuosity.  Ibragimova successfully gave the violin theme authority, above the piano’s stormy triplet quavers, in the Allegro.  The minor-key Andante which followed, a theme and variations, flowed with graceful momentum, the ‘turn’ ornaments delicately enhancing the syncopations of the main theme.  In the third and fourth variations, Tiberghien’s rapid running scales were articulated with lucidity, never over-powering the violin’s elaborate melody.  The modulation to the tonic major in the penultimate variation injected a delightful sweetness and warmth.  A perfect balance between grace and rhetoric was achieved in the Tempo di menuetto, the piano’s middle-voiced melody singing with gentility; the short phrases, moments of silence and cadential gestures were thoughtfully crafted.

This sonata is the work of a confident, mature composer, but Ibragimova and Tiberghien treated even the earliest of the works presented here with the same care and seriousness of intent, dancing lightly through the Allegro of the Sonata in Bb K.8, composed during 1763-64, and adding subtle nuance to the alternations between major- and minor-key inflections in the sonata’s Andante.  Fast bow strokes in the subsequent Menuet imbued the simple dance with vigour, though I felt that the second of the minuets, in the uncommon key of Bb Minor, might have been even more tempestuous.

In the opening sections of the Variations K.360, the violin took a subordinate role, but Ibragimova’s full tone pushed her chromatic, trill-adorned melody into the foreground in the second variation.  The tempo was a fairly swift Andantino but, though quite vigorous, the dance still lilted charmingly.  Tiberghien used the bass line to generate power and direction in the ‘busy’ later variations, while the rippling right-hand figures were fluid and legato, and always expressive.

Ibragimova employed a fuller vibrato in the Adagio of the Sonata in C K.303 (1778), her tone rich and the melody singing broadly and confidently above the Alberti accompaniment figure.  In this sonata the almost symbiotic nature of the relationship between violin and piano was evident, enhanced by Ibragimova’s meticulous intonation; in the Allegro molto, motifs passed synergistically between the instruments, creating a driving momentum; after such agitation, the transition back to the slower tempo was skilfully negotiated, and the restatement of the violin theme was silky and eloquent.  The concluding Menuetto was robust and crisp, with Tiberghien using the pedal sparingly.

The opening of the Sonata in C K.403 (1782) had an air of spontaneity, with the performers presenting a wealth of competing ideas, from leaping staccato motifs to skipping triplets.  Again, Tiberghien’s clearly enunciated accompaniment provided a sure foundation for Ibragimova’s assertive, warm-voiced melody, contrast being provided by the more introspective mood of the development section.  The opening of the Andante was similarly reticent, but as the movement progressed the players emphasised the quasi-Romantic spirit of the music, while sensitive use of rubato in the concluding Allegretto confirmed once again the performers’ perceptive approach to tempo and phrasing.

Three early sonatas, from 1764-66, followed.  The Allegro of K.13 in F was fast and bright, invigorated by lively dialogue between the two players and by the crispness of the piano’s accompaniment figures.  After such theatricality, the simple expressiveness of the Andante’s minor-key theme was touching, with Ibragimova moving surely from melody to tender double-stopped accompaniment, while the Menuetto was surprisingly dark and sombre.  Penetrating, sustained trills brightened the Allegro Moderato of the Sonata in C K.28, while the rhythmic exactitude of the Adagio poco Andante of the Eb Sonata K.26 created a nobility and stateliness which was briskly swept aside by the exuberant Rondo finale.

The Sonata in Bb K.378, composed in 1779, after Mozart had returned home to Salzburg from travels to Mannheim and Paris, concluded the recital.  As the piano led the violin in introducing the thematic material of the Allegro moderato, before Ibragimova took over with a wide leaping motif which was then echoed by the piano, we were again reminded of the equality of the partnership between the voices.  The Andante sostenuto e cantabile was full of yearning and unrest; the final Rondeau brought proceedings to a close in energetic fashion, with dynamic imitation between the two instruments.

This was a demanding evening, for both performers and listeners, in that the levels of concentration required by the performers to weave these separate works into a sustained sequence – one which engaged through both its contrasts and its on-going arguments – was matched by the audience’s need to listen with acuteness, to notice and absorb musical details, and assimilate them into an impression of the whole.  This was not a performance where one could sit back and let the music ‘wash over’ one; but, the effort was worth it.  This was an evening of penetrating musicianship: of immaculate technical assurance and poetic refinement.

This concert formed part of the Wigmore Hall’s series entitled ‘The Mozart Odyssey’, which began in September 2014 and which places Mozart’s chamber music centre-stage.  Ibragimova and Tiberghien conclude their survey of Mozart’s compositions for piano and violin on 30 January 2016.

Claire Seymour

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