Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Violin Sonatas: Volume 1
No. 1 in D, Op. 12/1 (1799) [19:50]; No. 4 in A minor, Op. 23 (1800) [20:23]; No. 8 in G, Op. 30/3 (1801/2) [17:44]; No. 7 in C minor, Op. 30/2 (1801/2) [24:27]
Alina Ibragimova (violin); Cédric Tiberghien (piano)
rec. live, Wigmore Hall, London, 27 October 2009

On this evidence this is clearly a very special musical partnership. Ibragimova and Tiberghien have high profile and successful solo careers. They actually played some of the sonatas together during their time as Radio 3 New Generation Artists. Later, in October 2009, they embarked on a complete cycle following an Aldeburgh residency which gave them time to work together on these masterworks. Here is the concert at the Wigmore from 27 October 2009, as fresh and invigorating music-making as one is likely to hear.

They begin with the D major, Op. 12/1. Rapid semiquaver runs hold no fears for either player, and when played together the ensemble is miraculous. The reading is evidently carefully considered. The opening’s combination of outgoing D major celebration with a more intimate mode of utterance sets up a contradiction that leads to a full flowering of the more ruminative aspect later in the movement. This sounds perfectly inevitable in these hands. Ibragimova’s tone is pure and sweet, and she clearly is alive to the more lyric aspect to this first movement without, laudably, interrupting the basic pulse. The central variation movement is, interpretatively, highly exploratory, with the players intent on fully revealing the music’s many layers. As the emotional core of the work, it requires a jaunty finale, and that is exactly what it gets, with the youth of the players working entirely in their favour here. One sits agape at Tiberghien’s easy evenness with the accompaniments. The quiet end is miraculously accomplished.

The A minor, Op. 23 receives a serious, pensive account. Ibragimova’s shifting, nervous lines hit at the very heart of the sonata. The substitute slow movement, an Andante scherzoso, più Allegretto, contains some delicious dialogue between the two instrumentalists. It is pure joy – one can clearly imagine smiles on the performers’ faces. The confidence from both Ibragimova and Tiberghien of the opening of Op. 30/3, taken at breakneck speed, is remarkable. Ibragimova offers some supremely sweet playing here, too. Concentration reaches its peak in the central movement (Tempo di menuetto, ma molto moderato e grazioso); the finale is another master-class in ensemble, shot through with Beethovenian verve.

Finally, the C minor, Op. 30/2 which is given an impetuous reading of great spontaneity. There is some beautiful stopping from Ibragimova - as if it is the most natural thing in the world for her to do. I wonder if Tiberghien could not have made more of his mid-movement subterranean rattlings, and of the two it is Ibragimova who better captures the C minor dynamism inherent in the music. Tiberghien finds the repose of the Adagio cantabile’s opening, though, preparing superbly for the violin’s entrance. Ibragimova does not disappoint, whispering sotto voce into the audience’s ear. The ghostly passage just prior to the five minute mark here is most effective, especially from Tiberghien with his disembodied scales. The scherzo and finale are the essence of Beethoven’s spirit, accents cheeky and disruptive, gruff outbursts superbly rendered, energy everywhere.

The concert itself was reviewed by my colleague Mark Berry for this site in the Seen & Heard section. The steeliness of tone from Ibragimova at the outset of Op. 12/1 noted there seems far less intrusive on disc; I wonder whether this was an acoustic problem? Reviewer seats at the Wigmore are usually right at the back, right in the acoustic trap, whereas the microphones are inevitably far closer to the musicians. Or, could it have been retaken after the concert? In support of such tidying-ups taking place, Mark noted that the final bars of Op. 30/2’s slow movement degenerated into a coughathon, but there is no sonic evidence of that here.

The Wigmore Hall Live label has opted to print some details in black against a purple background, making them difficult to read. A shame, as these are vibrant readings whose sense of life is infectious. It would be a pity if that put off prospective purchasers in record shops - if anyone goes to them, these days. The playing time, at over 80 minutes, is massively generous, too.

Colin Clarke

This is clearly a very special musical partnership, on the evidence of this disc. As fresh and invigorating music-making as one is likely to hear.