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Mendelssohn violin CDA68322
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Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Violin Sonata in F major (1838)
Violin Sonata in F minor, Op. 4 (1823)
Violin Sonata in F major (1820)
Violin Sonata in D (fragment, probably late 1820s)
Alina Ibragimova (violin)
CÚdric Tiberghien (piano)
rec. 2021, St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London
HYPERION CDA68322 [67]

Alina Ibragimova and CÚdric Tiberghien are well established duo partners, and this lovely disc of Mendelssohn’s violin sonatas confirms how well they work together. The disc gives us the composer’s complete violin sonatas, ranging beyond the single one he published to include works he left in manuscript form; and it presents them in, if you like, reverse order, the last-composed sonata presented first, and the earliest presented last.

The 1838 sonata is a real treat. The opening is gloriously ebullient, playing to all of Tiberghien’s muscular strengths as a pianist - he positively bounds through the chords of the opening Allegro vivace - and Ibragimova meets him with tone that is vigorous and rich. The tone of both, however, is marvelously sensitive, and a singing lyricism pervades the whole thing. That carries on into the hymn-like Adagio, beautiful in its stillness, and it even manages to remain a keynote through the helterskelter finale. It’s marked Assai vivace and here it feels like it as the piano and violin chase one another’s lines like scampering puppies. It’s an exhilarating listen, refreshing and clear, and it makes you wonder why on earth the composer never took it beyond the manuscript stage.

The opening of the F minor sonata, the only one the composer published, couldn’t be any more different. Here Ibragmiova’s unaccompanied violin sings out a solo line of exquisite tragedy, her lyrical keening joined later by Tiberghien, who sounds like a different pianist as he gently pads out the piano’s supportive chords. This alone is proof of what an excellent team this pair make: if you can touch heights of joy and depths of sorrow within a couple of tracks then there’s little else you can’t do.

That same sense of soulful cantabile permeates the major key slow movement, still shot through with longing for all its beauty, The finale is urgent and searching, with delicacy and lightness that isn’t a million miles away from the fairy music of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, albeit with less innocence and with darker drama.

The 1820 sonata - written when the composer was only 11 years old! - is remarkably assured, and Ibragimova and Tiberghien pay it the compliment of taking it seriously. The slow movement is a simple but delicate set of variations, and the finale is another tail-chasing-scamper movement, not that unlike that of the 1838 sonata’s finale, suggesting that the composer had a lyrical streak that ran through his whole career like a stick of rock.

The final curiosity is a fragment that dates from the late 1820s. The (excellent) booklet notes suggest that it shows the influence that Beethoven had begun to exert on the composer, not least because, like Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, it begins with a protracted Adagio, though Mendelssohn’s slow introduction is much more comforting and less disconcerting than Beethoven’s. There then follows a charging Allegro that brings Tiberghien and Ibragimova back to the surging muscularity with which the disc began in the 1838 sonata, giving the whole recital a pleasing circularity.

The warmth of tone is wonderful throughout, and the recorded sound captures it beautifully, the church of St Silas the Martyr putting a welcoming bloom around the sound without ever giving it too much resonance.

Simon Thompson

Previous review: Dominy Clements

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