Mendelssohn violin CDA68322
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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Sonata in F major MWV Q26 (1838) [23:33]
Violin Sonata in F minor Op. 4 (1823) [22:26]
Violin Sonata in F major MWV Q7 (1820) [14:23]
Violin Sonata in D MWV Q18 (fragment, probably late 1820s) [7:37]
Alina Ibragimova (violin)
CÚdric Tiberghien (piano)
rec. 19-21 January 2021, St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London
HYPERION CDA68322 [67:04]

Alina Ibragimova has built a substantial catalogue with the Hyperion label, and among other things, a complete edition of the Mozart sonatas together with CÚdric Tiberghien (review). Mendelssohn published only one violin sonata, his early sonata in F minor, Op 4 from 1823, and the rest recorded here were left in manuscript.

This attractive programme begins with the last and most ambitious of these sonatas, that in F major from 1838, the period in which Mendelssohn was working as director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. The work was intended for Ferdinand David and it is not clear why it was never finished, the sonata remaining in manuscript until 1953 when Yehudi Menuhin published a first edition. The piece by no means gives an unfinished feel in this performance. There are two versions of the first movement, and the one recorded here is that of the original, unrevised version. This is a very fine work, with that ‘fresh-air’ feel that makes Mendelssohn’s music so appealing. The opening allegro vivace has an extrovert feel, balancing the perpetuum mobile energy of the finale, the outer movements separated by a lovely song-like adagio.

The influence of Beethoven is a quality apparent in the earlier Sonata in F minor Op. 4, with its unusual opening solo for the violin and teasing delay of the first theme which appears in the piano. R Larry Todd points out a possible reference to the first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Tempest’ piano sonata, Op 31 No 2, as an inspiration for elements of this restrained and reflective music. The central poco adagio is another combination of external forces with Mendelssohn’s restlessly creative inventiveness, opening with Mozartean poise but going on to expand on the dissonances in the opening to explore unexpected modulations and heartfelt romantic passions. Rhythmic surprises and contrasts of mood in the finale add to the fun, with further touches of Beethoven to help things along.

The early sonata in F major from 1820 is quite a bit more conservative in its musical language, but is still a highly enjoyable work with quirky eclectic touches that range from Haydn to C.P.E. Bach. The outer movements have somewhat academic workings-out of their monothematic musical material, the central Adagio being a set of variations that alternate between minor and major modes.

The fragment of a Violin Sonata in D from probably in the late 1820s is the only evidence we have that Mendelssohn intended to write another violin sonata. This consists of 367 bars of a first movement that indicates his stylistic development from the 18th century models of Q7 to the influence of Beethoven heard in the Sonata Op. 4. The extended adagio with which this movement begins hints at an ambitious and large-scale work, the driving allegro molto that follows having plenty of content but a considerable amount of repetition that might indicate an unrequited search towards some kind of thematic nirvana.

There aren’t many direct comparisons to be made with this programme, one of the few I could find being the Nomos Duo’s recording for Naxos (review). This is also a very good set of performances, at times with brisker tempi than Ibragimova and Tiberghien, who ultimately win out in terms of expressive content though not by a huge margin. Shlomo Mintz has recorded MWV Q12 and Q26 for Deutsche Grammophon in refined performances with pianist Paul Ostrovsky and again with Roberto Prosseda on the Decca label with MWV Q7 added. The three sonatas also appear on a disc from the Meridian label with Yossi Zivoni and Anthony Goldstone but I haven’t had the chance to hear this one. Either way, this Hyperion delivers on every level in a recording of compelling vitality and, to my ears at least, flawless musicianship.

Dominy Clements