When this is released on August 30, Hyperion has a total winner on its hands. Brahms, Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien are perfectly cast; these are mesmerising performances wonderfully well recorded by Simon Eadon (Andrew Keener producing)—with intimacy, clarity, faithful dynamics and spot-on balance—after all, these are Sonatas for Violin and Piano, and these artists are such a charismatic partnership; their give and take is palpable, their devotion to the music deep and dedicated, and their insights illuminating.
Take the opening movement of the G major Sonata, at once gorgeous and eloquent. The duo’s moderate tempo and shapely phrasing are, frankly, perfect, so too their gradations of volume and their ability to know when one instrument has the limelight without overshadowing the other—the frisson generated is spine-tingling and haunting, even more so in those passages when the depth of Brahms’s soul is revealed as something beyond words. The piano introduces the second movement, Tiberghien richly expressive, Ibragimova then confiding and songful; and the Finale is sculpted to a nicety, bowed and touched gently.
It’s a similar story for the remaining seven movements (Opus 108 claiming four of them). Whether individually or indivisibly—Ibragimova sporting a wide range of tone, as intense as she is tender, Tiberghien waxing poetically yet not afraid to be demonstrative—the remaining two Sonatas continue on the same exalted level in terms of the music-making itself (and all three works are inspired anyway), persuasively judged all-through, not least the changes of tempo in the central movement of the A major piece; the Vivace sections really dance. How expressive the beginning of the D minor; how ‘naked’ both musicians’ subsequent and emotional fortissimo—yet such an outburst is made to belong. By contrast, the Adagio is poignancy itself, and its successors are completely characterised.
Had it been included, one can only imagine the fire and turns of phrase this combo would have brought to the Scherzo that Brahms contributed to the FAE Sonata (although the Finale of Opus 108 is in a similar mould). With there being room for the Scherzo and also the Clara Schumann, then the latter’s (first) Romance should not be thought ‘instead of’; and, anyway, it’s a charming miniature played with sweet affection.