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Proms Chamber Music 8: Bach and Bartók: Alina Ibragimova (violin) and Tai Murray (violin), Cadogan Hall, London, 29.8.2009 (BBr)

J S Bach: Partita No.3 in E major for solo violin, BWV 1006 (1720)
Bartók: Sonata for solo violin (1944)

Two stunning performances of major works for solo violin – one of the most difficult types of composition for a composer. Here is an instrument which cannot sustain its own harmonies so the composer is basically writing a monodic line which must suggest harmony and counterpoint.

Bach writes a short suite of seven movements, ranging from the unashamedly virtuoso, and totally abstract, Preludio to dance movements. Ibragimova, playing a 1738 Pietro Guarneri violin, gave a performance full of insight and careful thought. She was alert to every shading and dynamic, making the most of the opportunities offered her by the composer and bringing the music into stunning life before our very ears, from the dynamic Preludio through a limpid Loure, two Minuets and a very boisterous Bourée to the rumbustious final Giga. With a wonderful lack of vibrato and very intelligent use of rubato, this was a superb performance.

There could not have been a bigger contrast between the Bach and what followed, Bartók’s Sonata for solo violin. This is a big work, in every sense of the word, written for Menuhin and into it Bartók puts all his compositional know–how creating a tour–de–force for the performer. Tai Murray started as she meant to go on, with a big and bold sound, the exact opposite of the chaste sound of the preceding Bach. Her performance was somewhat unrelenting, but then the music is written that way and there is little by way of respite for either the listener or the performer. In the second movement fugue Murray pointed the various strands of the texture well and in the third Melodia she delivered a beautiful cantilena. Murray played on a violin specially made for her by Mario Miralles in 2007 and the sound was warm and rich. It really helped in this performance, by giving the somewhat austere music more of a heart than is usual.

Bob Briggs

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