Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonatas – 3
Violin Sonata in A major Op.30 No.1 [22:00]
Violin Sonata in E flat major Op.30 No.3 [19:05]
Violin Sonata in A major Kreutzer Op.47 [37:30]
Alina Ibragimova (violin)
Cédric Tiberghien (piano)
rec. live, Wigmore Hall, 25 May 2010. Stereo. DDD
WIGMORE HALL LIVE WHLIVE 0045 [78:56]
Ibragimova and Tiberghien have already received universally positive praise for the first two instalments of their Beethoven sonata cycle, so expectations run high for this third and final disc. Although I haven't heard the previous two, listening to this one I can well understand what the fuss was all about, for this is seriously accomplished Beethoven interpretation. The players have an extraordinary rapport, yet both put their individual stamp on the work, essential for any great Beethoven performance.
The three discs each record a single Wigmore Hall recital, hence the jumping around the chronology of the sonatas. The absence of any late period works in the cycle makes this a practical arrangement. It is not like the string quartets, where serious thought has to be given to which early works to pair with the late quartets. Instead, the slightly less Titanic Opp. 47 and 96 can each close a concert with appropriate gravitas and without completely stealing the show.
Ibragimova and Tiberghien are at their best in the earlier sonatas anyway. The young(ish) Beethoven was working at a time when the duo sonata was in a state of transition, with the balance gradually shifting in favour of the melody instrument over the keyboard. The genius of these performances is in the way that the players are able to keep that question of balance open. They are often equal partners, but just as often, one or other will take the lead, initiating elaborate semiquaver runs or suddenly dominating the texture with some florid decorative figure. But everything here is fluid, and none of these power imbalances lasts for long.
I'm particularly struck by the way that both players are able to change their volume and timbre instantaneously mid-phrase, and to change the course of that phrase as a result, a quiet conclusion, for example, retrospectively taking all the bravura out of an imposing opening statement.
Ibragimova has a fairly light tone. It is certainly attractive, and there is plenty of variety too, but if there is anything to say against this recording it is that the narrowness of that violin sound may not be to everybody's taste. She has a surprising ability to create airy, floating textures despite this reedy sound. In the second movement of Op.30 No.1, for example, the violin breezes across the piano textures with wonderful delicacy, but still with that slight edge to the sound.
It works well there, but for me the Kreutzer needs something else. It needs a sense of weight from the violin that only comes from a big, round sound. The playfulness that brings the violin parts of the earlier sonatas to life seems almost to trivialise the Kreutzer's sterner textures. And Tiberghien holds back a little too much in some of the louder passages. That complex power balance between the keyboard and the violin becomes an outright paradox in the Kreutzer, with the piano line often looking like a solo part, but forced into the role of an accompaniment by the equally arresting violin part. There are a number of places where the violin and piano right hand ought to be working as equal partners, but what we always hear is the violin with the piano's figurations subsumed. No matter, Beethoven asks for the impossible, and this is one legitimate way to square the circle.
Wigmore Hall Live manage their usual high standard of audio recording here. I love the way that they are always able to capture the ambience of the hall's warm acoustic, making it almost the third player in the mix. All round an impressive recording, then, not the last word in Beethoven sonatas, but then how could it be? If anything that is a virtue; the subjectivity of these readings brings the players themselves, and their own attitudes to the music, clearly into focus. The interpretations are coherent and mature, and the teamwork between the players is what makes the recording something special.
Interpretations that are coherent and mature, and the teamwork between the players is what makes the recording something special.