Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Concerto in a minor, BWV1041 [12:17]
Violin Concerto in E, BWV1042 [14:55]
Violin Concerto in A, BWV1055R [13:11]
Violin Concerto in g minor, BWV1056R [9:01]
Violin Concerto in d minor, BWV1052R [19:27]
Alina Ibragimova (violin)
Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 8-10 August, 2014. DDD.
HYPERION CDA68068 [68:51]

Reviewed as 24-bit download from, with pdf booklet.  Also available in mp3 and 16-bit and on CD.

Alina Ibragimova already has a very fine recording of the reconstructed Concerto for violin and oboe, BWV1060R, to her credit (with Alexei Ogrintchouk (oboe), together with other reconstructed Bach oboe concertos, BIS-SACD-1769 – review).  She has also recorded the solo violin sonatas and partitas for Hyperion (CDA67691/2) and she wowed the 2015 Proms audience with these solo pieces and appeared there in a matinée with Apollo’s Fire in BWV1042 (see below).

Now she offers the two secure Bach violin concertos together with some credible reconstructions, from the keyboard concertos Nos. 1, 4 and 5.  Though at least two of these were probably intended originally for the oboe or oboe d’amore, let me say at the outset that I enjoyed her recordings of all the concertos very much.  Were there not such very strong competition I might well have made this a Recording of the Month.

The nearest competition for this programme comes from Giuliano Carmignola and Concerto Köln, a recording which Michael Cookson thought stunning and in a class of its own (with the two-violin concerto, BWV1043, in place of BWV1055, DG Archiv 4792695 – review).  I liked that Carmignola recording too (Download News 2015/2) and though I tried a number of movements where I thought either he or Ibragimova might have the upper hand, in the final analysis it’s impossible to plump for one or the other.

Ibragimova sounds a little less hectic at times than Carmignola, but their tempi are not hugely different and he never overdoes what DG describe as Bach all’ Italiana.  She actually takes the allegro assai finale of BWV1042 ten seconds faster even than he does, which is not to say that I thought either of them unduly fast here or elsewhere.  Reviewing her Proms performance of that concerto, with Apollo’s Fire, Claire Seymour thought it ‘a … natural fit for Ibragimova’s temperament, [giving] … an unwaveringly tasteful and charming performance.  The Affetuoso in particular struck a heart-chord: playing without vibrato … the violinist dared to withdraw her sound to the very barest sliver of silver, which made the resurgence of warmth in the dancing triplets of the Allegro assai even more refreshing.’  (review).

Ibragimova sounds fairly forward on Hyperion, so that ‘barest sliver’ comes over a little louder than seems to have been the case in the flesh, but her playing in the slow movement remains very sensitive indeed and the finale is just as refreshing as it was live.  Carmignola takes almost a minute longer over the slow movement of BWV1042 without ever sounding as if he is milking the sentiment unduly and though he takes a few second longer over the finale, he also captures the dancing quality of that movement.

The same high standard is maintained in the a-minor concerto, BWV1041.  I can’t claim to have heard all the available versions – there are over 140 in the current UK catalogue – but this is without question one of the best of the many recordings of this work that I do know.

Nor is there anything to choose between the two accompanying ensembles, Arcangelo and Concerto Köln, including their sizes: seven violins, two violas and cellos, etc., each.  Both recordings come with informative booklets, though Hyperion perhaps has the advantage in that respect.

The 24/96 download to which I listened produces a very natural sound but the CD and the 16-bit should also sound fine.  On the day when I downloaded this album and one other my ISP provider seems to have thrown some gremlins into the works.  Two tracks, together with one from the other recording, emerged with small but annoying glitches: the answer is to download the offending tracks again individually, carefully rename them as per the offenders and delete the originals.

With two very fine baroque violinists in Carmignola and Ibragimova offering very similar programmes, the slight difference in programming could be a decisive factor.  If your collection is lacking a version of the two-violin concerto, BWV1043, that may give Carmignola, with Mayumi Hirasaki as second violin, the advantage.  If, however, you already have a good recording of the double concerto, BWV1055 sounds very convincing in this very well performed reconstruction.

Brian Wilson

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