Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata no. 1 in G Major, op. 78 [27:22]
Violin Sonata no. 2 in A Major, op. 100 [18:56]
Violin Sonata no. 3 in D Minor, op. 108 [21:15]
Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1896)
Andante molto (no. 1 from Three Romances, op. 22) [3:32]
Alina Ibragimova (violin)
CÚdric Tiberghien (piano)
rec. 2018, Henry Wood Hall, London
HYPERION CDA68200 [71:06]
On this new disc from Hyperion, Alina Ibragimova and CÚdric Tiberghien turn in polished, respectable, and carefully-considered performances of the Brahms violin sonatas. There is no outsized rubato, the score has been honoured in its many details, and there are few blemishes – musical or technical – of any kind. Were I to hear these performances live, I’d be very impressed by the duo’s incredibly tight ensemble and their sensitive response to these difficult scores.
Hearing them on a commercial studio recording, my main caveat to potential listeners is that Ibragimova and Tiberghien seem reluctant to “go for it,” to embrace the many highs and lows found in the music. There is always a note of holding back, of leaving some energy or passion in reserve. This approach can work for many composers but it doesn’t quite serve Brahms.
In their defence, there are few entirely successful recordings of all three sonatas; most past recordings of the sonatas as a set shine in one or two of the sonatas, but almost never in all three. The classic Josef Suk/Julius Katchen Decca disc is probably the most solid for completists, but if pressed for individual favourites, I’d identify Gioconda de Vito/Edwin Fischer in op. 78, Adolf Busch/Rudolph Serkin in op. 100, and Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin’s 1936 rendition of op. 108. The only modern complete sonata set that I’ve kept in my collection is the Pamela Frank/Peter Serkin Decca disc, a collaboration that brought out the best in both players.
The high point for Ibragimova and Tiberghien is the second sonata. This is the one that responds best to a subtle, gentle approach, and the two find a great deal of colour in its pages. There are many thoughtful small touches throughout, particularly from the gifted fingers of Tiberghien, who manages to find some interesting articulations in unexpected places. In terms of the individual performances, my only quibble would be Ibragimova’s on/off vibrato (straight or “white” tone on one note, vibrato on the next), something that may be a relic of her work in early music, or possibly even related to the late-Soviet period habit noted by Henry Roth in his Violin Virtuosos from Paganini to the 21st Century. Both musicians are outstanding technicians, capable of an impressive amount of control throughout the three sonatas.
The Romance of Clara Schumann makes a poor counterweight to the sonatas, coming off as inconsequential compared to Brahms’s monumental, impassioned utterances. It was a pleasant thought to include the piece as an encore, but the comparison is injurious to Schumann, who wrote much better music than the Romance presented here.
If you would like a very modern, streamlined and elegant version of the Sonatas, this rendition will fit the bill.