From the austere opening bars of the First Violin Sonata, one of Prokofiev’s towering masterpieces, it’s clear that this violin-and-piano duo is capable of the subtlest interplay. Steven Osborne is the lion, or the demon, that needs taming by Alina Ibragimova’s fiddler, dancing—sometimes ever so frailly—on the volcano. There are revelations in the outer movements: never have I heard the violin’s tentative B minor melodising as so much the heart of the preludial Andante assai—it's equal in effect to what Prokofiev described as the 'wind in the graveyard’ rushings which appear at the end of that movement and return so strikingly at the end of the work—and the way the scherzo's abrasive insistence returns in the piano bass of the finale is truly hair-raising.
The slow movement is more than ever one of those ‘voices that will not be drowned’ from beyond the grave—again, the partnership is spellbinding—and if the violin seems weaker than her pianist in the spine-tingling Allegro brusco scherzo, I wonder if that’s not deliberate. The string voice is much fuller in the more straightforward melodies of the Second Sonata. Osborne is terrific in the clumsy-child piano octaves of the finale, and the spirit here is unconstrained by pity or terror. There’s a fine glide into the dream-world of the Hive Melodies transcribed from the soprano Songs without Words, where only the spiky antics of the scherzando fourth melody break the reverie, though be warned—there isn’t much of a break between the tragic dying fall of the First Sonata and the first of the Op 35 sequence.