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 Recording of the Week  Sublime Ravel from Ibragimova and Tiberghien

The Ravel G major Violin Sonata has always been one of my favourite works: full of both variety and apparent spontaneity, it is imaginative, inventive and hugely exciting to listen to. A new recording out next week from Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova and French pianist Cédric Tiberghien is one of the finest I’ve heard, and coupled with other works by Ravel and the rarely played sonata of Guillaume Lekeu I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to tell you about it this week.

Cédric Tiberghien and Alina Ibragimova
Cédric Tiberghien and Alina Ibragimova

Ravel’s life was almost divided in two by the First World War. Prior to war he was a prolific composer and along with Debussy became regarded as one of the leading French composers of his time. After the war things had changed somewhat. The American influence of jazz and ragtime had arrived in Paris; Satie and Les Six were gaining in popularity; and composers like Schoenberg were starting to take music in different directions. In addition to this the large orchestral styles of composers like Mahler and Richard Strauss were starting to go out of fashion and instead a return to simplicity and textural clarity was becoming the norm. Ravel’s desire to ensure that his music remained relevant meant that his musical style changed quite considerably to incorporate some of these new influences.

Both the G major Sonata and Tzigane are examples of this changing style, the latter being based on the form of the czardas and imitating the gypsy style with techniques like harmonics, trills and glissandos. The G major Sonata took Ravel four years to complete – being frequently interrupted by other compositions. It receives a performance here which is full of character and contains a tremendous range of colours and dynamics. Furious pizzicato and sudden interjections add to the inherent wildness of this music and while harder to really understand than the earlier sonata (which is also on this disc) it is a real masterpiece and well worth getting to know if you don’t already.

The Ravel works are coupled here with the Violin Sonata of the Belgian composer Guillaume Lekeu. He died of typhoid the day after his twenty-fourth birthday and this sonata is undoubtedly his most well-known work. He had been a student of César Franck and Vincent d'Indy, and the influence of both is very noticeable here. As an interesting (and perhaps amusing) segue from my article on Bayreuth a few weeks ago, I read that Lekeu attended a performance of Tristan und Isolde at Bayreuth in 1889, but fainted after the Prelude and had to be carried out! He must have been devastated to have missed it as he was a known Wagner admirer. For someone largely unknown though there are some lovely bits in this music: memorable melodies and a beautiful slow movement which, set in 7/8 time, demonstrates impressive compositional skill.

As a duo, Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien clearly have a tremendous rapport. Their playing is totally absorbing, and they lure you into the music to such an extent that you don’t really notice the considerable technical demands that both Lekeu and Ravel demand from both performers. They mirror each other’s lightest of touches and phrase beautifully as one voice. Their recent series of Beethoven Sonatas from the Wigmore Hall garnered rave reviews (volume 3 is a finalist at this year’s Gramophone Awards) and I expect this disc to be equally successful. You’ll find the usual sound samples via the link below. Enjoy!

Ravel: Complete music for violin & piano

Alina Ibragimova (violin) & Cédric Tiberghien (piano)

Available Format: CD