On her previous duo discs—Beethoven sonatas for WHLive, Ravel, Szymanowski and Schubert for Hyperion—Alina Ibragimova has been partnered by the French pianist Cédric Tiberghien. For her new Prokofiev release she teams up with Steven Osborne in one of those astute mergers of talent for which Hyperion is well known. Osborne revealed his penchant for Prokofiev last year in the Visions fugitives and Sarcasms that accompanied his compelling, multi-faceted interpretation of Musorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition (CDA67896). In the two Prokofiev violin sonatas, his instincts are just as finely honed.
The sonatas could scarcely be more divergent in temperament. The First, begun in 1938 but interrupted by work on the Eisenstein film Alexander Nevsky, the opera Semyon Kotko and the ballet Cinderella, is a dark, shadowy, chill piece shot through with an acerbity that in other circumstances can point to Prokofiev’s caustic wit but here seems to identify a much more furrow-browed, pessimistic mood.
The Second Sonata, which has always been the more popular, is also sunnier in outlook, with lyricism at its heart. As it happens, the Second Sonata, rearranged from the 1943 Flute Sonata, was completed before the First, with which Prokofiev toiled until 1946. Both sonatas owed much to the composer’s friendship with the great Russian violinist David Oistrakh, whose recordings from the Fifties are still very much in circulation.
But there is always room for performances of the depth of perception and strength of character that Ibragimova and Osborne give. The two sonatas are separated by the Five Melodies Op 35bis of 1925, which Prokofiev transcribed from the songs without words that he composed for the soprano Nina Koshetz, who created the role of Fata Morgana in the Chicago premiere of his opera The Love for Three Oranges in 1921. The shifting kaleidoscopes in the piano part and the subtle vocal inflections of the violin are qualities that also imbue Ibragimova’s and Osborne’s interpretations of the two sonatas.
Those weird glissandos in the opening movement of the First Sonata evoke exactly the shiver of “wind in a graveyard” that Prokofiev himself alluded to, and the music’s mix of cautious whispers, fierce outbursts, rumination and astringency is potently projected.
In tandem with the comparative calm of the Second Sonata there is also a vitalising impetus and an apt palette of colour that distinguishes the whole disc.