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 Recording of the Week  Schubert works for violin and piano from Ibragimova and Tiberghien

Despite still being in his teens, Schubert’s output in the years 1815-16 was truly remarkable, including four symphonies (Nos. 2-5), three Masses, chamber music, piano sonatas, four one-act operas and over 250 songs. It is also included his first three violin sonatas. It is those three sonatas which form the first disc of Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien’s new 2-disc set of the composer’s complete works for violin and piano.

Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien
Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien

These three sonatas weren’t published until eight years after Schubert’s death, and were then rather misleadingly called ‘sonatinas’ (no doubt to try and lure the lucrative amateur market into purchasing them). Like many of Schubert’s works of this time these sonatas show a clear debt to Mozart; although the first of the three (D384 in D major), cast in three movements, is neither technically nor musically especially demanding, both the second and third (D385 in A minor, and D408 in G minor) are more substantial four-movement works, lasting as long as some of Beethoven’s sonatas and certainly neither miniature nor light-weight as the term ‘sonatina’ would suggest.

Ibragimova and Tiberghien wisely seek an intimate and restrained approach in these sonatas, with pure beauty of tone, and sustained singing lines with limited vibrato the aim rather than anything too overly expressive. They still achieve plenty of playfulness and bite in the faster movements, though, with gentle bubbling excitement threatening but never actually boiling over. It is very carefully judged, and with Ibragimova’s customary pinpoint intonation and excellent understanding between the two players the music comes across very well indeed.

The second disc starts with Schubert’s Violin Sonata in A major, D574 (originally called ‘Duo’ on first publication). Although composed only a year after the earlier sonatas it is a whole different world, and shows a much more distinctive Schubertian voice with beautiful singing melodies, lolloping and rippling accompaniments, unexpected shifting keys and abrupt dynamic changes.

The disc is completed with two works from the very end of Schubert’s short life – the B minor Rondo and C major Fantasy from 1826 and 1827 (as well as the violin and piano arrangement of Schubert’s popular song Sei mir gegrüsst which forms the basis of a set of variations in the Fantasy). Both the Rondo and the Fantasy are much more flamboyant and dramatic pieces (quite uncharacteristic of Schubert) and after the stylistic restraint shown by Ibragimova and Tiberghien on the first disc, they clearly relish the opportunity to let rip a little here.

It is fantastically vibrant playing, technically brilliant and always stylish. As in their previous discs together, Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien play with a real rapport and affinity, and Tiberghien’s sensitive touch and ability to identify the most crucial harmonies and allow them just that fraction more time helps elevate this music making to the very highest level.

None of these works are particularly well known, but are all both enjoyable and rewarding to listen to. Sound samples are available as usual via the links below. This is certainly a set I’ll be returning to again in the future.

Schubert: Complete works for violin and piano

Alina Ibragimova (violin), Cédric Tiberghien (piano)

Available Format: 2 CDs