Bach's violin concertos boast a recording history of over 80 years. Yehudi Menuhin's classic 1932-6 recordings are still available, superbly remastered, from Naxos. Since then, most distinguished violinists have thrown their hats into the ring with the fastest, leanest, jauntiest …
Among these benchmarks, Alina Ibragimova makes a strikingly distinctive contribution, albeit subtle and restrained.
In the opening of the A minor BWV1041, she introduces minute expressive emphases and nuances into her solo line, sustaining the hypnotic motoric pulse but relieving it of any relentless 'sewing-machine' quality. In contrast, in the E major's opening movement, her solo line flows uninterrupted by the orchestra quietly working the opening rising notes into their accompaniment.
Jonathan Cohen's choice of lute as well as harpsichord among the continuo forces invites another distinctive feature. In slow movements, the lutenist (Thomas Dunford) gently animates the underlying slow, meditative orchestral blocks which frame the solo episodes. In BWV1042, the combination of persistent repeated bass, lute, almost inaudible violin entry, and quietly pulsing middle orchestral strings, add up to quite breath-taking effect.
Final movements are spectacular. In Bach's 'very fast' gigue ending to BWV1041, Arcangelo strings and Ibragimova are fearless, she is consumed with manic energy as her solo builds the tension around a ringing, dissonant E string—Bach at his wildest. BWV1042's finale is an exuberant dance, almost weightless between the forceful first-beats.
The violin repertoire has been enriched over the years by the realisation that other concertos were almost certainly derived from lost violin originals. In the Largo of BWV1056 Ibragimova ornaments the solo line with Bach's oboe version, simpler and more pensive than his keyboard arrangement—and very beautiful.
BWV1055 in A began life as an oboe d'amore concerto, reflected in the generally lower pitch of the solo line—at the start, Ibragimova produces a fine 'd'amore'-sounding crunch on the violin's bottom string. The slow movement is perfectly balanced between soloist and accompanying strings, both in tone and in spatial positioning, the violin's gentle arabesques pirouetting over the unfolding harmony below.
The D minor violin restoration from the surviving keyboard BWV1052 is the most hypnotic of all. After the severe Vivaldian unison opening, Ibragimova's flashing figurations, six bars on a single harmony, create a ferment of excitement sustained throughout the opening movement.
The scale of the period instrument forces is ideal: orchestral violins in threes making for a warm and perfectly tuned contrast to the soloist. Outstanding.