This is simply superb in every way. Franck's Sonata in A usually dominates any violin recital, especially when the performance is as wonderful as this, yet here it is but one component in an exquisitely balanced programme. The great Belgian violinist Ysaÿe is the common denominator between three of the works, doubtless drawing on Alina Ibragimova's strong pedigree in his music having already recorded his challenging solo sonatas. Ysaÿe's contemplative Poème élégiaque acts as the perfect prelude, while both Vierne's and Franck's sonatas were written for him, the latter as a wedding present.
Vierne's four-movement sonata is the largest work and it is hard to imagine it played better. As Roger Nichols's typically eloquent booklet essay notes, Vierne was not only a pupil of Franck, but also gained a first prize in violin from the Paris Conservatoire. This shows in an engrossing, thoroughly idiomatic work that deserves to be far better known. For those who only know the composer from his organ works, it will be a surprise to encounter the intense galloping fervour that opens the first movement, the third movement's playfulness or the sonata's numerous poetic passages.
Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien are typically outstanding throughout, playing with exceptional control without ever forsaking spontaneity. Inspired by the tomb scene from Romeo and Juliet, Ysaÿe's Poème élégiaque typifies the deep musicality on display here, for it was written at a point when he no longer felt the need to proclaim his virtuosity with showy fireworks. Ibragimova and Tiberghien convey each ebb and flow of its fluctuating moods, from melancholic hesitancy to burnished passion, with conviction and integrity.
Whereas the soaring lines of this disc's repertoire prompts many violinists to saw away relentlessly, with Ibragimova it is the numerous moments of delicate hush that are striking, By finding a gossamer-like fragility and stillness not just in the middle of Ysaÿe's Poème or the beautiful Andante Sostenuto of Vierne's sonata, but even in the midst of Franck's fearsome second movement, Ibragimova and Tiberghien build potential energy that is all the more devastating when it is finally unleashed.
Make no mistake, this performance of the Franck is among the finest on disc, its frequent intimacy providing a distinctive perspective. The timbral range of both players is exceptional, Ibragimova not afraid to tear harsh sounds from her violin as the high emotion of the Allegro threatens to boil over. In the opening pages of the Recitativo-Fantasia there is a wonderful sense of a protagonist making a singing declamation, then huskily seeking reassurance from the wings, with Tiberghien's piano responding with whispered encouragement.
After all this comes a perfectly judged performance of Lili Boulanger's sublime Nocturne provides a heart melting conclusion to a generously-filled disc that ends all too soon.