Memorable Brahms from Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Brahms: Alina Ibragimova (violin), Cédric Tiberghien (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 21.4.2018. (CC)

Brahms – Violin Sonatas: No.1 in G, Op.78; No.2 in A, Op.100; No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108

One of the most exciting young duos around today, Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien have established themselves as masters of their instruments and fine interpreters of a wide repertoire. Their decision to play all three Brahms violin sonatas in one evening promised a concentrated experience – and even with encore, a relatively short one – and so it was. This was music making of the highest order.

The three sonatas make fine bedfellows, each a world of its own. The G major Sonata, Op.78 (1878/9), which is contemporaneous with the Violin Concerto, is a work of sheer mastery, its seeming ease of construction masking a maze of thematic cross-references. The marking of the first movement is Vivace ma non troppo: Ibragimova and Tiberghien clearly took the ‘ma non troppo’ to heart, as there was a distinctly unhurried aspect to the opening, mirrored by Ibragimova’s beautifully warm sound. Throughout, Ibragimova’s control of her instrument was miraculous; the tempo, too, spoke of an interpretative confidence from the players. The violin’s spread pizzicato chords working superbly; her lower register was splendidly smoky. Both musicians controlled the end of the movement impeccably: this was chamber music of the very highest order. The second movement’s opening was bold, almost primary colour – and in this movement, Ibragimova proved how powerful that low register of hers could be. The finale (Allegro molto moderato), with its theme taken from Brahms’ song Regenlied, was a masterclass in enigma. The meeting of deeply intelligent youthful minds with Brahms’s profound outpourings resulted in a thought-provoking and satisfying experience. The one caveat is that, just occasionally, one felt that it was Ibragimova who was the more finely attuned to the Brahmsian sound world.

The A major Sonata (1886) is one of Brahms’s most blissful, lyrical outpourings. Here that inkling of a slight imbalance in attunement was more pronounced, with Tiberghien tending towards the literal at the opening. The hybrid slow movement/scherzo second movement, though, was impeccably done, the scherzo elements positively quicksilver, the lyrical ones phrased with heartfelt intensity by Ibragimova (her high register splendidly sweet). Again, her mastery of her instrument was miraculous, the stopping towards the close of the finale an absolute joy.

The Third Sonata was started in 1886 but was only revealed in all its glory in 1888. It is a magnificent edifice of a work. The emphasis of the first movement is on organic growth, and Ibragimova and Tiberghien found just the perfect sense of rightness of harmonic direction and progression. Ibragimova remained at the top of her game, perfectly judging the end of the first movement and in total control in the second movement Adagio; Tiberghien, for the first time in the evening, completely matched her mastery, his touch particularly notable in the crepuscular Scherzo; again, in the finale, his handling of the chords of the chorale-like theme was brilliantly balanced.

The beautiful, perfectly chosen encore was the first of the three Romances for violin and piano, Op.22 by Clara Schumann. The Wigmore Hall was full to bursting; microphones were present, which bodes well.

Colin Clarke

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