Online Concert: Alina Ibragimova & Cédric Tiberghien at Wigmore Hall – Schumann: Violin Sonatas 1 & 2

Alina Ibragimova (violin), Cédric Tiberghien (piano)

Violin Sonata no.1 in A minor Op.105 (1851)
Violin Sonata no.2 in D minor Op.121 (1853)

Wigmore Hall, Monday 15 May 2023 1pm

by Ben Hogwood

It is only in relatively recent years that the violin sonatas of Robert Schumann have begun to get their proper dues. Schumann wrote three such works, sitting at the mature end of his output, and each is shot through with concentrated feeling.

The Violin Sonata no.1 was written in an unfortunate climate, Schumann admitting that it was reflecting a period when he was ‘very angry with certain people’. Certainly its beginning here, with Alina Ibragimova deep in concentration, had a furrowed brow and a darker mood. Yet it was not long in this performance when shafts of sunlight appeared, especially when the harmony moved into the major key. A period of intense reflection was followed by a drive to the finish, propelled by Cédric Tiberghien‘s flowing piano.

The second movement, effectively a slow movement and a scherzo combined, had an appreciably lighter mood with which to begin but cut to a more agitated frame of mind for the scherzo, its contours ideally negotiated by these two fine performers.

The relatively short sonata finished with a busy and determined third movement, digging in but also drawing back to reveal lighter colours and moods. Schumann’s dispute, it seems, was resolved.

The Violin Sonata no.2 is almost twice the length of its predecessor, and is perhaps beginning to reach the status its musical content deserves. To begin with it is an imposing proposition, and Ibragimova brought a granite-like surety to the double stopping, revealing hints of Bach in the responding recitative. In spite of the first movement’s substantial dimensions, it was consistently compelling in this performance, with passionate violin and flowing piano responding really well to each other and maintaining a really satisfying balance. The opening theme coarsed with drama but the broad phrases of the later theme became assertive and ultimately dominant.

The scherzo showed typically energetic Schumann figure, but remained anxious around the edges until its final acclamation. Meanwhile the third movement presented an opportunity for reflection in the plaintive but highly expressive pizzicato with which it began, both performers enjoying the hymn-like nature of the theme even in its loosely strummed form. Gradually the substance of the theme revealed itself, beautifully expressed in natural phrasing, especially in the second variation, with double stopping from the violin.

The finale pushed forward with great urgency, Ibragimova pushing the relentless theme forward while Tiberghien gave a substantial and weighty supporting voice. The two finished each other’s sentences as Schumann’s motifs passed between the instruments, before an emphatic and rapturous finish in the major key.

The musicians were not quite finished, treating us to a beautifully weighted account of Schumann’s song Abendlied as an encore.

For more livestreamed concerts from the Wigmore Hall, click here

In concert – Vilde Frang, CBSO Chorus and Orchestra / Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla – Elgar: Violin Concerto; The Panufniks & Schumann

Vilde Frang (violin), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

Elgar Violin Concerto in B minor Op.61 (1909-10)
Andrzej & Roxanna Panufnik Five Polish Folk Songs (1940, rec. 1945, rev, 1959, orch. 2022) [CBSO Centenary Commission: World Premiere]
Schumann Symphony no.1 in B flat major Op.38 ‘Spring’ (1841)

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 8 March 2023

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

The relationship between Elgar and Schumann is a fascinating one, aspects of which surfaced in this coupling of the former’s Violin Concerto with the latter’s First Symphony; the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra joined by principal guest conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla.

As with Sibelius not long before, Elgar was an able violinist whose solitary concerto for his instrument makes no technical concessions. There is also a symphonic dimension as seemed uppermost in the thoughts of Vilde Frang, her formidable technique (rightly) geared towards the work’s conveying emotions within an expansive while methodical framework. This was evident in the opening Allegro, the impetus of its initial tutti maintained by flexible handling of contrasted themes on to a climactic development whose intricacy was abetted by the clarity of the orchestral playing. Even finer was a central Andante whose main melodies, among the composer’s most affecting, were never indulged across the course of a movement where the expressive profile remains teasingly intangible right through to those soulful concluding bars.

Maybe the balance between display and insight slipped in the final Allegro molto, with Frang losing focus slightly during its more extrovert passages. Once the accompanied cadenza was underway, however, there was no doubting the rapport of soloist and orchestra as earlier ideas are recalled and speculatively transformed in what comes near to being a confession of intent. Nor was the sudden re-emergence of that earlier energy at all underplayed as the coda heads to its affirmative resolution: one whose conviction duly set the seal on a memorable reading.

After the interval, an additional item in the guise of Five Polish Folksongs written by Andrzej Panufnik after the outbreak of war, reconstructed at its close and orchestrated by his daughter Roxanna so the stark originals for children’s or female voices – with pairs of flutes, clarinets and bass clarinet – were cushioned by these richer orchestral textures. The CBSO Youth and Children’s choruses (finely prepared by Julian Wilkins) gave their all in what were appealing yet at times overly diffuse arrangements of settings that are best heard in their original guise.

So to Schumann’s ‘Spring’ Symphony, a piece whose encapsulating mid-Romantic sentiment seemed uppermost in MG-T’s insightful and, for the most part, convincing account. Evocative fanfares launched the opening Allegro in fine style, the often fitful momentum of its lengthy development vividly maintained through to a sparkling coda. Arguably too slow for its ‘song without words’ format, the Larghetto yet exuded undeniable pathos and made a spellbinding transition into the Scherzo. A (too?) leisurely take on its first trio took the listener unawares, but the winsome closing bars prepared well for a final Allegro whose animated progress was enlivened by delectable woodwind and horn playing on the way to its decisive close. Should MG-T return in future seasons, further Schumann symphonies would be more than welcome.

The CBSO returns next week in a rare UK hearing of Weinberg’s First Sinfonietta, alongside Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Kirill Gerstein and an extended selection from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet – this latter and the Elgar also featuring in a Barbican concert the next day.

You can read all about the 2022/23 season and book tickets at the CBSO website, and click here for the Romeo and Juliet concert, repeated at the Barbican here. Click on the artist names for more on Vilde Frang and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, or composer Roxanna Panufnik

Playlist – Daniel Barenboim

Yesterday marked the 80th birthday of the great pianist and conductor, Daniel Barenboim.

In celebration Arcana has compiled a playlist from just a fraction of his many, many recordings. There is so much from which to choose, as Barenboim’s discography runs from early days at EMI, and recordings with his late wife, cellist Jacqueline du Pré, through a substantial body of work for Warner Classics to his current ‘home’, Deutsche Grammophon.

Our small but perfectly formed playlist includes an extract from his most recent release of Schumann symphonies, with the Berlin Staatskapelle, but also some of those early recordings, including a Beethoven piano trio with du Pré and violinist Pinchas Zukerman:

Playlist – Natalia Gutman

Today marks the 80th birthday of the distinguished Russian cellist Natalia Gutman.

A pupil of Mstislav Rostropovich, Gutman has performed and recorded with legendary conductors Kirill Kondrashin, Yevgeny Svetlanov, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky and Yuri Temirkanov among many others. Alfred Schnittke wrote a number of pieces for her, including his first Cello Concerto.

In the biography on her website, Elizabeth Wilson writes that ‘as an enthusiast of chamber music she formed an important musical relationship with the exceptional violinist Oleg Kagan, who became her husband. Together they formed a trio with Sviatoslav Richter, who also frequently acted as Natalia’s duo partner.

You can enjoy her artistry through the Spotify playlist below, including recordings of concertos by Shostakovich and that dedication from Schnittke:

In concert – CBSO Centre Stage: Beethoven & Schumann string quartets

Schumann String Quartet no.3 in A major, Op.41 No. 3 (1842)
String Quartet no.11 in F minor, Op.95 ‘Serioso’ (1810-11)

CBSO Soloists [Jonathan Martindale and Stefano Mengoli (violins), Christopher Yates (viola), Helen Edgar (cello)]

CBSO Centre, Birmingham
Friday 6 May 2022

Written by Richard Whitehouse

The Centre Stage series, featuring members of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, continued this afternoon with a coupling of string quartets which, written just three decades apart, could hardly be more contrasted in terms of their aesthetic stance or emotional impact.

It made sense to reverse the advertised playing order. Schumann’s Third Quartet may be the last of his trilogy, but the initial movement is an ideal means of ushering in any programme – its gentle introduction then ruminative Allegro segueing with an unforced eloquence amply conveyed by these players. Most impressive was the ensuing scherzo – its variations on an agitated theme maintaining impetus right through to the restive closing bars. In his opening remarks, Jonathan Martindale spoke of the anguish beneath this music’s seeming sanguinity as is confirmed by those stealthy episodes that twice disrupt the Adagio’s repose before its main ideas find uneasy accord. No such issue affects the final Allegro, its rhythmic dexterity faltering a little but its determined progress towards an affirmative outcome never in doubt.

Whereas Schumann’s quartet typifies the mid-Romantic zeitgeist, Beethoven’s Serioso finds the latter composer’s late-Classicism at its most provocative – not least in terms of a formal concentration that barely exceeds 20 minutes. The present account underlined this in a lithe take on the opening Allegro which exuded a volatility such as (rightly) carried over into the next movement – its Allegretto marking indicative of a restlessness made more poignant by the extended coda’s burgeoning lyricism. Yet, as the ambiguous final cadence attests, there can be no let-up with a scherzo whose ‘serioso’ marking reinforces this as music-making in earnest. Its tense angularity is hardly less evident in the lurching progress of a finale whose breezily nonchalant conclusion is as unexpected as it was vividly realized on this occasion.

An arresting and persuasive juxtaposition which will hopefully be evident (if a little less starkly) in the next Centre Stage concert just over a month from now, when several of this afternoon’s players reassemble for early chamber works by Vaughan Williams and Fauré.

You can find further information on CBSO Centre Stage concerts on the CBSO website