Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International
March 2019

Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien have given some compact recitals in which they inevitably have had to omit the Franck sonata that forms the centrepiece of their latest disc for Hyperion. Its absence in those recitals is, nevertheless, an implied presence; it is the work that launched a generation of cyclic sonatas, that was dedicated to Ysaÿe, inspired Franck’s pupil Vierne (who wrote his own sonata for Ysaÿe) and permeated Franco-Belgian music for years to come.

Ysaÿe’s Poème élégiaque was published in 1893 and inspired in particular by the tomb scene in Romeo and Juliet. It was clearly influential on Chausson, amongst others. It’s not been especially popular on disc where it has largely been colonised by Russian violinists, something of a feature of the Ysaÿe discography in the 1960s and 70s in particular. With its quiet insanity, lyricism and funereal paragraphs it evokes a Fauréan sensibility at several points and indeed was dedicated to Fauré and these are the elements brought out by the duo with liquid refinement and great clarity. Members of the beefy Russian school, such as Viktor Tretyakov, habitually played this with the kind of unbridled vibrato-heavy style they brought to Brahms. Ibragimova’s tone production is worlds away—tight, controlled, but light and flexible—and she and Tiberghien bring a genuine sense of introspection and sublimated passion to their performance. She has already recorded the Solo Sonatas for Hyperion, a recording I very much liked.

Vierne’s 1906 sonata is a large-scale four-movement work that reflects the best of contemporary French and Belgian writing, from the alternately stabbing piano figures and the violin’s contrasting lyricism in the first movement, via the deft chromatic drift in the evocative slow movement. Here Ibragimova’s dynamics are finely judged in the softer music and both musicians really attack the contrasting B section, stern and agitato. After the characteristically witty and pert Intermezzo there’s a powerful slow introduction in the finale and then the freewheeling vitality of the Allegro. The sonata has been recorded by Judith Ingolfsson and pianist Vladimir Stoupel on Accentus 303712, coupled with the Quintet for piano and strings, Op 42 and by Alexis Galpérine (violin) and François Kerdoncuff (piano) on Timpani 2098, a 2-CD set of all Vierne’s chamber music. The Franck is played with the kind of refined elegance you’d expect from this duo. Tempo decisions are good, and they are careful not to allow movements to drizzle into each other, as less perceptive duos are apt to do; each movement retains its own definitive sense of character. The greater burdens in this work are borne by the pianist and Tiberghien proves a laudable exponent. Ibragimova makes a few expressive position changes, especially in the second movement Allegro and there is a clarity and directness to the reading, though not opulence.

Lili Boulanger’s Nocturne of 1911 makes for a sweet envoi, though it’s melancholy to realise that she was to die only seven years later.

Roger Nichols’ sleeve notes are typically astute. Full of correspondences and inter-connections this finely recorded recital disc makes fine programming sense, no matter how many recordings of the Franck you may have and will be especially valuable for the Ysaÿe and Vierne.