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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)   
Violin Sonatas – Volume 3
Sonata in B flat major, K454 (1784) [22:25]
Sonata in G major, K27 (1766) [7:56]
Sonata in C major, K296 (1778) [18:04]
Sonata in F major, K547 (1788) [20:20]
Sonata in B flat major, K31 (1766) [8:53]
Sonata in D major, K306 (1778) [26:42]
Alina Ibragimova (violin)
Cédric Tiberghien (piano)
rec. Wyastone Estate Concert Hall, Monmouth, 2015
HYPERION CDA68143 [48:26 + 55:56]

This is the third 2 CD set of Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien's complete survey of Mozart's violin sonatas and, like its predecessors, it offers a mixed presentation of early, middle period and later works on both CDs, so you can play these as separate recitals or halves of a concert. Here we begin with the Sonata in B flat, K454. The Largo introduction with the masculine opening flourish and feminine graceful response made me think forward to the Jupiter symphony. Both instruments have the flourish while the response comes firstly on piano, secondly on violin, which then has a gentle, decorative tune, the piano following with a more florid one. This cat and mouse interchange continues in the main Allegro, Ibragimova supplying more charm, Tiberghien more vigour. In the development Ibragimova has a more searching melody while Tiberghien enjoys chromatic slithering. I compared the 2006 recording by Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis, like all my comparisons in this review from the Mozart 225 complete edition (Decca 483000, CD17). The Mutter/Orkis introduction is more spacious but also has a more studied quality. Their Allegro is more pressing and fiery in its verve, the development more shadowy. I missed Ibragimova/Tiberghien's lighter articulation and ideally weighted balance: you feel an equal partnership of scintillance. As they blend together so well, in future in this review I shall call them Ib and Tib.

The central movement is an aria in four phases. In the first the violin leads with the theme. In the second phase (CD1, tr. 2, 1:06) the violin expands the aria rhapsodically, in the third (1:33) the piano introduces a jocular element and both then elaborate this in more whimsical fashion before the fourth phase in the minor (2:40) is followed by a recapitulation in which the odd different or extra note charts ongoing transformation. The movement is marked Andante and, timing at 6:29, Ib and Tib achieve this in a warmly flowing manner. At 8:27 Mutter/Orkis are closer to Adagietto, beautifully played but you feel there's a searchlight on everything with the third phase more deliberate in its musing and the minor phase sounding a touch self-pitying.

The Allegretto finale is vivacious and carefree with the two instruments intertwined in presentation and feeling. The opening melody is constantly replenished as there are five elements to it. Not until tr. 3, 2:42 does a second phase occur, like a development. This is presented by Ibragimova with simplicity and a trace of a smirk but has Tiberghien more philosophical. Timing at 6:51, Ib and Tib achieve for me the marked tempo. At 6:35 Mutter/Orkis veer towards Allegro, which makes for a more boisterous but less elegant progress.

For their second sonata on CD1 Ib and Tib take us back 18 years to the 10-year-old Mozart in the Sonata in G, K27. Straightway Tiberghien's floridity impresses but Ibragimova is allowed to steal into the texture, for example when she twice echoes the melodic phrase which begins the second paragraph. The presentation of these sonatas from various periods points up a gradually increased position of the violin to that of equality with the piano. Yet even in this early work in the hands of Ib and Tib the relationship between piano and violin is sensitively delineated by being judiciously balanced. In the repeat of the opening section Tib adds a little additional ornamentation which Ib matches. My comparison from Mozart 225 (CD 12) is a 1974 recording by Gérard Poulet and Blandine Verlet, with a harpsichord in the keyboard part. This allows Poulet's relatively fuller tone on violin more prominence. But Poulet/Verlot lack the charm of unity that Ib and Tib display. In the second movement, however, the harpsichord's more percussive delivery is advantageous and Poulet/Verlet make dainty companions. On the other hand Ib and Tib show clearly that there's equality in the principal theme in which, on two occasions, the violin has the spotlight rising and the piano has it falling in response. I also think they are right to take the central section in G minor a little more expansively than Poulet/Verlet as this more effectively points up its reflective nature.

CD1 is completed by the Sonata in C, K296. It opens with an Allegro vivace which is brisk and bubbling, all sparkle from Tiberghien, particularly come the semiquaver runs and occasional echoing charm from Ibragimova. But the third theme (tr. 6, 1:07) neatly combines a homely jig from Ib with confident rising strutting from Tib which then grows into an airy soaring, then falling, melody. In the immediate repeat the roles are reversed and the violin, at first chirrupy, then sweet, makes more of the fulfilment of the melody. Now I remember Mozart was a violinist as well as a pianist. In the development the piano brings back the second theme (0:33) but it's the violin which expands it (3:53) in a musing and growingly wistful manner. I compared the 1984 recording by Itzhak Perlman and Daniel Barenboim (Mozart 225, CD 14). This is more laid back and genteel at first, which allows more contrast through a friskier treatment of the third theme and notably more dynamic contrast when, at the end of the exposition, piano phrases are followed by forte ones. Yet generally I prefer Ib and Tib's emphasis on momentum and verve to Perlman/Barenboim's neatness and elegance.

The Andante sostenuto marking of the slow movement sets for Ibragimova a lingering, probing nature. From the second section (tr. 7, 0:51) the movement becomes increasingly rhetorical. The third section (2:26) highlights the violin mulling over things to exultant fulfilment in the fourth section and then tender return of the opening melody. Perlman/Barenboim achieve a greater simplicity in the presentation of the melody, Ib and Tib a comfortingly crafted manner. Perlman and Barenboim spice things up by a greater emphasis on the pause in the middle of the second section and an ornamented opening after this by Barenboim on its repeat while Perlman adds a short cadenza at the fermata after the violin's climax. Ibragimova/Tiberghien forgo such garnishing.

In the fairly free rondo finale the first half of the melody is proposed by the piano, then taken up by the violin with the punch line added. The first 'episode' (tr. 8, 0:41) is all flowing quavers from the piano before reminiscences of the rondo theme are thrown into the melting pot. The third 'episode' (2:27) has the violin proposing a more abandoned version of the rondo theme which the piano redresses by further reminiscences. Ib and Tib's more dramatic approach than Perlman/Barenboim makes the 'episodes' more exotic. Perlman/Barenboim are more graceful and thereby you feel they stray less far, an approach which however makes their coda seem more peremptory. 

CD2 starts with the Sonata in F, K547 which begins with a free set of variations on a gentle theme, hospitable to decoration, the violin offering a sympathetic cushion for the piano's theme in the first strain but exchanging with the piano a leap of an octave and a half and dazzling parade of semiquavers in the second. Variation 1 (CD2 tr. 1, 1:06) sees the theme expanded in the violin, in turn more probing and gleeful. Variation 2 (1:49) is more chipper in both instruments, becoming freer and ultimately more gauche from Ibragimova/Tiberghien. After a piano cadenza, Variation 3 (3:03) has the violin providing a cosy backcloth of running quavers to the piano's theme. The coda is affectionately retrospective in the graceful flow of material between Ib and Tib. I compared the 1974 recording by Szymon Goldberg and Radu Lupu (Mozart 225, CD19). Their timing for the movement (without final section repeat) of 4:29 is markedly slower than Ib and Tib's 3:55. This makes for a more considered treatment of the first theme, yet a more spiky interchange in the second strain. The violin is more assertive in Variation 1. Goldberg/Lupu bring a jollier, more alfresco Variation 2 and a more formal, yet contented, sense of decorum and summation in the coda.

The Allegro central movement contrasts a lively, loud opening phrase and soft, sweet second one, the latter given a perky tail second time round. The second theme (tr. 2, 0:40) plays around with dotted quaver/semiquaver rhythms before a more robust second section, relaxed third one and athletic fourth section to end the exposition. The development, unusually, has a softer, smiling manner but its second half is powered by a three-quaver rhythm in both instruments, with violin four-semiquaver rhythm thrown in later in alternation. You admire the fusion of the partnership between Ibragimova and Tiberghien. From Goldberg and Lupu the second theme has a touch more breadth and its second half is quite forcefully realized. Their development is resolute. They impress in their assertiveness but I missed Ib and Tib's ability to relax more.

The finale brings a theme and 6 variations. The theme itself, in quavers, has a wide- ranging line and livelier second section. Variation 1 (tr. 3, 0:59) has the piano presenting the theme now in semiquavers but Tiberghien keeps the mood relaxed. In Variation 2 (1:55) the theme is in quavers over a bass of semiquavers. Variation 3 (2:55) freezes the tune a little in the piano to allow striking comments from the violin. Variation 4 (3:54) at last gives the violin the theme with a decorative, trilled version in the second half. Variation 5 (4:52) is for piano alone, emphasising the angularity and reflectiveness of the theme. Variation 6 (6:01) has piano demisemiquavers to rather squat, bare bones of a theme on violin. The coda manages to be gentle in Tiberghien's hands despite the continuing demisemiquaver backcloth. Timing at 8:04 to Ibragimova/Tiberghien's 7:14, Goldberg/Lupu are more studied in presentation of the theme yet their second half is pert in its staccato emphasis. Variation 3's sudden sunny intensity in Goldberg's violin on 2 occasions to top D in the soprano range is very striking but for me overdone. Variation 4's tune is richly delivered but the trilling in the second section rather formal. Variation 5 is bolder and more raw in angularity. Variation 6 contrasts a firm violin and more dazzling piano. Goldberg/Lupu's is the most characterful of the interpretations I have surveyed for comparison but I still prefer the more rounded, mellow approach of Ib and Tib overall which is elegant and balanced, yet can also be vibrant.

Now we go back 22 years for the Sonata in B flat, K31, the highlight of whose opening Allegro movement is the violin's nifty echoing of the piano flourishes when it briefly gets the chance. Ib and Tib, faster than Poulet/Verlet (details as for K27), are more stimulating in their greater animation. The second movement, a theme with 6 variations, is more interesting owing to the rhythmic counterpoise between piano and violin. In the theme the violin at times slightly trails the piano, at times sustains long notes against it. The sensitivity with which Ib and Tib effect this is appreciable, Ibragimova happy often to remain stylishly in the background, or for that matter the foreground, as in Variations 2 (tr. 5, 1:37) and 3 (2:24). The generally steadier approach of Poulet/Verlet finds less interest in the music, except perhaps in Variation 3 where there's a strong sense of the harpsichord, with the tune half a beat behind the violin's semiquaver figures, chasing the violin. Ibragimova prefers to define the violin's pivotal role here as discreet decoration. The movement gains from Ibragimova/Tiberghien's repeats of the all sections of the variations which Poulet/Verlot omit.

CD2 concludes with the Sonata in D, K306, notable for its contrasts of mood. It begins in a busy and ostentatious manner, the violin articulating lissom leaps against the piano's constant flurry of semiquavers. But the urbane second theme (tr. 6, 0:43) is the violin's alone and it's the piano's turn to show a capability of neatness when its counterpoised semiquavers turn to staccato quavers. In the development the violin plays at echoing the piano, a game which becomes more intensive as piano cascades are pitted against violin leaps. On the other hand, the return of the second theme finds the violin more gossamery. This is all brilliantly done at a sparkling pace by Ib and Tib. The 1983 recording I compared by Arthur Grumiaux and Walter Klien (Mozart 225, CD15) is also jaunty, but its drier acoustic makes for a more domestic feel and thereby less verve. To the second theme Grumiaux brings an aristocratic elegance, less coy and smiling than Ibragimova, though the progress and climax of the development from Grumiaux/Klien is very clearly articulated.

The Andante cantabile slow movement brings a piano melody like the smoothly lapping water of a lake over which the violin glides like a swan. Varying piano currents are all slickly negotiated so Ib and Tib glory both in their individuality and enjoyment in blending. The second theme (0:58) is a meditation on contentment. The waters are briefly stormier in the development but the piano's challenge finds the violin unperturbed and there's much finesse in contrast of dynamics to enjoy from both Ib and Tib. Slightly faster, Grumiaux and Klien are less smooth, with clear structural pointing and phrasing more distinctly etched, but their dynamic contrasts are less fastidious. 

The finale mixes an Allegretto happy, dancing theme with a friskier Allegro. The former is given out by piano and violin together, the latter allows both party pieces in turn, so while the violin has the more delicate and wistful melodic material (tr. 8, 3:32), the piano has a cadenza, which the violin is allowed to gatecrash, ensuring amiable equality. Does it all get a bit twee? There's an advantage in  Grumiaux/Klien being slightly faster, making the movement more light-hearted while Grumiaux brings something of a gypsy flavour to the Allegro, but the cordial sharing of the music by Ibragimova and Tiberghien is a characteristic and winsome feature of their performances overall.

Michael Greenhalgh



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