Notes and Editorial Reviews
Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas
Alina Ibragimova (vn)
HYPERION 67691/2 (2 CDs: 139:08)
Alina Ibragimova, now entering her mid-twenties, has recorded a repertoire largely centered on the meal’s meat course: Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Nikolay Roslavets, and Karol Szymanowski (no desserts, like Wieniawski, Paganini, or Sarasate—but no Beethoven, Brahms, or Mendelssohn, either, for that matter). Now she’s entered the lists with a complete recording of Bach’s Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas. The engineers
captured her 1738 Pietro Guarneri close up during three sessions, December 22-23, 2008, January 17-18, 2009, and February 17-18, 2009, revealing a sound that’s edgier than lush, though her manner doesn’t seem so.
In the First Sonata’s Adagio, she plays with rhythmic freedom and a hypnotic sense of rhapsodic invention. She hews close to the manuscript version: in the third measure, for example, she raises the E? in the “bass” to E (though it’s an E? through the rest of the measure): the E appears in the manuscript (but not in at least one of the “urtext” editions). As in the performances of so many period practitioners, her long-held notes tend to drawl. In the ensuing
, she clips along at a bracing tempo, imaginatively arpeggiating the moving notes over the D pedal. In the section that follows, her top-weighted chords tend to obscure the melodic movement of the bass line (violinists used to play chords top-down to emphasize these foundations, but seldom do so nowadays). Though she takes so many of the melodic figures in the Siciliana with separate bows, she manages, partly through ingenious and sensitive dynamic nuance, to maintain the movement’s flow—as she did in the Adagio. Even so, some listeners may feel that she proceeds more from note to note than from idea to idea. At her breathtaking tempo, the Presto maintains crisp clarity even in its most awkward passages, due perhaps to bowing that’s been called “sprung détaché”—the separate sounding strokes the Baroque bow naturally produced.
Dynamic nuances similar to those she employed in the First Sonata’s Siciliano reappear in the First Partita’s Allemande, which seems in this performance to be perpetually renewing itself. Nicholas Anderson’s notes describe this Partita as, of the three, the most “expressively undemonstrative”; but listeners to Ibragimova’s kaleidoscopic performance might not find this description entirely apt—and she takes the Double at a tempo brisk enough to preserve the Allemande’s iridescent flashing. If the Corrente seems disjointed in some performances, Ibragimova organizes its figures within larger phrases, each with its own natural rise and fall; she unleashes her virtuosity in the Double. The Sarabande proper, as did the First Sonata’s Adagio, features long-held notes that seem to drawl; its Double, though she outlines its melodies sensitively, proceeds at a slower tempo that emphasizes fey effect more than melodic continuity. Nevertheless, her earthy, piquant reading of the Tempo di borea and her rhythmically varied one of its Double bring the Partita to a satisfactory close.
In the Second Sonata, Ibragimova, playing freely (though not with license), fleshes out the logical skeleton of Bach’s Grave in a way that’s warmly human, though the Fuga remains somewhat abstract. The second Sonata’s Andante, with its accompanied melody on the solo violin, parallels the First Sonata’s Siciliana. This time, however, Ibragimova doesn’t seem to recreate the effects she conjured in that earlier movement, allowing accompaniment to draw the freer melody into its regularity.
Ibragimova’s rhythmic freedom in the Second Partita’s Allemanda belies Nicholas Anderson’s remark that it’s a bit “lacking in geniality.” Her tempo in the Corrente allows it to run in almost a literal sense and injects rarely encountered energy into its triplets as well as into its leaping dotted notes; her tempo in the Giga strikes sparks. Ibragimova brings personal ideas to the Chaconne. Her habit of tapering off just before an important note and playing it quietly imparts an occasional sense of understatement epitomized in her quiet ending of the movement. She incorporates the rushing détachés that modern violinists have borrowed from period practitioners, mixing them with heady arpeggiations and rich characterizations of each variation to create a musical statement that should provide food for thought and a subject for meditation on Bach’s multifaceted writing for violin.
If Ibragimova’s not straightforward in Chaconne, she isn’t either in the massive Fuga of the Third Sonata, taking time to pause, for example, before the beginning of a significant statement. As do the other fast movements in regular sixteenth notes (for example, the First Sonata’s Presto), the Allegro assai in this reading makes a stunningly virtuosic impression.
The Third Sonata’s famous Preludio offers the same kind of opportunities for virtuosity as do earlier movements; Ibragimova plays it lickety-split with keenly focused attention on Bach’s limned accompanimental lines. But the Loure, which she bastes with subtle spices, proves just as satisfying.
With an overall tendency toward whining, period-like timbres, some bow changes that suggest some stiffness in bow crossings, and occasional intonation that sounds sour in context, Ibrigimova’s playing of solo Bach displays a mix of qualities that might make it less than wholly palatable to some even if she played with more perfect ease than she does. Nevertheless, so many well-thought-out individual nuances grace her reading that no one can afford to overlook it. The cover of the jewel case depicts her in what could be mistaken for a pillbox; the insert behind the CD displays her face wearing what looks like a deep scowl. Though the set might seem to some too much like a basket of vegetables rather than of a vase of roses, and though in its originality it’s miles apart from the more elegant, less brooding readings of Heifetz, Milstein, Francescatti, Oistrakh—even a more modern thoughtful player of Bach like Christian Tetzlaff, with whom she studied—it’s impossible not to recommend it, though with caveats.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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