United Kingdom Schubert, Beethoven: Alina Ibragimova (violin), Kristian Bezuidenhout (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 16.6.2020. (CS)
Schubert – Violin Sonatina in A minor D385
Beethoven – Violin Sonata No.5 in F Op.24, ‘Spring’
Part-way through the third week of Wigmore Hall’s daily lunchtime luxuries – screened live from the Hall and on broadcast BBC Radio 3 – and it was the turn of violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout to provide us with an oasis of musical charm and calm.
Neither player is a particularly demonstrative or extrovert performer, but they share a steely and controlled intensity, immense clarity of conception and execution, and a meticulous attentiveness to detail which assimilates subtle nuance within tautly crafted larger structures. Their chosen programme was thus perfectly suited to the nature of their mutual musicianship – works by Schubert and Beethoven in which outward simplicity does not mask the composers’ individual character-stamps.
Schubert’s three Sonatinas for violin were originally titled Sonatas and re-named for posthumous publication, perhaps to appeal to the burgeoning domestic market for chamber works which could be played by amateurs in the home. But, there’s nothing amateur about the composition of these Sonatinas, even if they generally prioritise melody over extensive musical development. And, if at times Schubert offers us a sort of ‘lied’ for the violin, who would complain? I confess that I’d forgotten these Sonatinas, which I had played as a student, and it was a pleasure to be reminded of their appealing elegance and songful ease.
The A minor Sonatina begins restlessly though, and here in the opening bars of the Allegro molto the piano’s light but urgent pulsing beneath the expanding intervals of the minims above – which stretch ever-wide, leaping sevenths, ninths and curling back in tritones and chromatic twists, as if to do all they can to destabilise any sense of certainty – prepared for the almost fierce entry of the violin. Ibragimova’s confident declaration – six resonant minims that stretch low and high – gave way almost immediately, though, to the sweet nonchalance of the tonic-major second theme which pushed gently forward with a lovely loose ease, balancing the tightness of the opening.
The performers revealed every detail and conveyed every change of mood with utmost precision and lucidity. All repeats were observed and small alterations kept the music fresh: a crisp ornament here, a touch of added emphasis there – as in the repeat of the development section in which Bezuidenhout’s left hand descent seemed to acquire darker mystery. Ibragimova’s tone is pure and focused, and her violin sang powerfully and cleanly, supported by Bezuidenhout’s translucent sonorities and finely judged rubatos. The neatness and perceptiveness of their partnership was particularly evident in the Andante variations where, after the unmannered statement of the theme, repeated variants were infused with lovely details, such as the delicately spread piano chords and turns, later imitated by the violin, which flavoured the first variation. The tumbling cascades of the second variant were a liquid stream above a carefully pedalled low drone and the violin equalled such fluidity, the smooth waterfall given added impetus by the piano’s quiet syncopations.
Further diversity came in the Menuetto, in which Ibragimova’s bow surged with surprising speed, given the brevity of the opening motif – and astonishing control as the violin shrank from might to whisper in the merest breath – then danced with pinpoint accuracy through the racing spiccato triplets. The delicate Trio seemed over in a blink. The final Allegro was melodious and energised, never resting but never rushed. At times one sense a Mozartian grace, elsewhere the insistence of the violin and the variety in the piano part seemed more Beethovian in character. The breakneck triplets were razor-sharp and the frequent changes of mood entirely convincing. This was lovely playing that sent me to my music files after the performance to unearth my score.
The same balance of spontaneous lyricism and restless inner energy characterises Beethoven’s so-called ‘Spring’ Sonata of 1801, but in this, the first of the composer’s four-movement violin sonatas, one feels Beethoven looking forward somewhat impatiently beyond the grace of Classicism to the Romantic radiance and turbulence ahead. It was no surprise that Ibragimova and Bezuidenhout relished both the soft grace and the impetuous ambition. Warmth of tone and crystalline textures conveyed the freshness of the opening Allegro theme; subsequent oscillations between sweetness and fury cohered convincingly; the exchanges and dialogues between the violin and piano were silkily executed.
The Adagio molto espressivo presents one of those Beethoven melodies which, though developed through ever more elaborate divisions, retains its essential purity of form and spirit. Ibragimova closed her eyes as she gently accompanied Bezuidenhout’s theme and the duo conveyed a consoling tranquility which we all so need at present. Shadows were introduced in the closing episode of the movement, as the piano bass thickened and extended downwards, but the clouds parted for the resolution which slowed a little, as if laying down to sleep, fragmented and then closed with the piano’s spread chord of reassurance.
The Scherzo was certainly Allegro molto and flew by like Ariel, casting a sprinkling of musical magic. In the concluding Rondo the duo seemed similarly to have taken only brief note of the ma non troppo which modifies the Allegro instruction, but they tempered the impulsiveness with some beautifully judged spaciousness at the end of phrases, like a singer taking an almost imperceptible breath, giving the movement an underlying relaxation. It was over too quickly, but Ibragimova and Bezuidenhout gave us one final taste of Beethovian majesty and profundity in the form of the slow movement from the composer’s Eb Sonata, the third of his sonatas for piano and violin, and the first Adagio movement which Beethoven included in these works. Gravity, grandeur and grace closed a heart-warming recital.
The remaining lunchtime recitals, and previous concerts in the series, can be seen here and on BBC Sounds.
The live stream of this concert is supported by Hamish Parker.