Beethoven: Violin Sonatas: Op. 12 No. 3; Op. 30 No. 1; Op. 47 (Kreutzer)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Wigmore Hall Live
WORKS: Violin Sonatas: Op. 12 No. 3; Op. 30 No. 1; Op. 47 (Kreutzer)
PERFORMER: Alina Ibragimova (violin), Cédric Tiberghien (piano)

At last, Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien’s outstanding Beethoven series reaches the Kreutzer Sonata. There is no sense of anti-climax, even though the performance follows (as it did in concert) remarkably insightful and vital performances of two substantial earlier sonatas. It is particularly gratifying to hear how well these two performers’ blend of seriousness and keen-witted playful humour translates into Kreutzer terms. Granted, the playfulness is more tigerish here (in the outer movements, at least) than in the previous two works.
But then we’ve already heard something like it in Op. 33 No. 3 (featured in their Vol. 1). Ibragimova and Tiberghien show just how complex Beethoven’s emotional language can be – impassioned and direct one moment, wickedly ironic the next – while keeping a tight grip on overall structure. 
The same is true, on a more modest scale, in the two earlier works. Subversive wit sparkles in the first movement of Op. 12 No. 3, then grows edgier and more radical towards the climax. Initially the Adagio of Op. 30 No. 1 is elegantly contained; by the time we get to the coda Ibragimova’s pianissimo seems poised on the threshold of a new expressive world. As before, both players are alert, agile and acutely responsive to each other at every turn, and Ibragimova’s tone retains that paradoxical balance between apparent fragility and intense inner strength. Again and again these performances demonstrate how much energy can be conveyed without raising one’s voice or thumping the table. Excellent live recordings too. Stephen Johnson