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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sonatas (Sonatinas) Op. posth. 137: D major, D384 (No. 1) [14:24]; A minor, D385 (No. 2) [21:08]; G minor, D408 (Op. posth. 137 No. 3) [19:15]
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major, D574 [21:13]
Rondo in B minor, D895 (Op. 70) [13:30]
Fantasie in C major for violin and piano, D934 [23:30]
Sei mir gegrüsst! D741 (Rückert) transcr. violin and piano [4:37]
Alina Ibragimova (violin)
Cédric Tiberghien (piano)
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 27-29 July, 3-4 August, 2012
HYPERION CDA67911/12 [54:49 + 62:52]

Browsing my ever-expanding CD shelves the other day, I became aware that my compulsive acquiring disposition had netted me seven sets of Schubert’s Complete Works for Violin and Piano. What is more, they are all marked with distinction. A cursory glance reveals sets by Goldberg, Stern, Schneiderhan, Zukerman, Kremer, Martzy and Michele Auclair. Certainly in this area, I do not appear to have acquired any disappointments. Having listened to this new release from Hyperion with Ibragimova and Tiberghien, I do not hesitate with happiness to add this to my collection.
 
Ibragimova and Tiberghien are no strangers to each other, having performed in recitals together many times. They have also collaborated in several recordings, most notably the complete violin and piano works of Ravel and Szymanowski, also on Hyperion. I also note that there are three volumes of Beethoven Violin and Piano Sonatas on the Wigmore Hall Live label.
 
Their programme begins with the three sonatas from 1816, composed when Schubert was in his late teens. I have always known them as ‘sonatinas’, but perhaps the title ‘sonata’ is more apposite, as the A minor and G minor works are in no way small-scaled; their timings match the A major D574 and indeed some of the Beethoven violin and piano sonatas. These three early works have a Mozartean flavor, and are performed here with much grace and charm. There is great humour in the third movement of the D major. Both lyrical and dramatic characters are emphasized in the two sonatas in minor keys.
 
The ‘Duo’ Sonata D574 is a work on an altogether grander scale. There are no influences of Mozart here; Schubert comes into his own and finds his individual voice. This is a captivating playing. It opens with a delightful and warmly lyrical first movement. A delicious Scherzo follows, well articulated and capricious. The Andantino has a graceful simplicity, and the work concludes with an ardently played finale.
 
1826 saw the composition of the Rondo in B minor. I have never been overly enthusiastic about this work. However, there is a very fine recording with Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin from 1938 (Biddulph LAB 067). I have been playing this Hyperion version all week, and have only just realized how good a work it is. Ibragimova achieves a wonderful pianissimo at 1:03, and the sheer visceral excitement of the closing pages is breathtaking. The same pianissimo is present in the opening bars of the Fantasie, Schubert’s masterpiece from 1827. This work is the most frequently performed and recorded of his violin and piano works. There are many distinguished recordings available and this one can certainly stands tall in that company. The focal point of the Fantasie is the central variation section, on the theme Sei mir gegrüsst. Ibragimova teases out each of the four variations with delicacy and poise. It is most welcome to have as an encore at the end of the CD the original of Schubert’s setting of Ruckert’s Sei mir gegrüsst with thevoice part played on the violin. One realizes how much the composer adapted the melody for the Fantasie.
 
These are magical performances by two young artists who clearly enjoy the joint experience of music-making. Intelligence and integrity mark these interpretations out with distinction. I was very taken by the rich tone of the violin, which is an Anselmo Bellosio of 1775. The Hyperion engineers are to be commended on achieving a splendid balance between the two instruments. The Henry Wood Hall offers a sympathetic acoustic. This is one of the listening highlights of my year - all in all a consummate achievement.
 
Stephen Greenbank