BRAHMS: Violin Sonatas; Clara SCHUMANN: Andante molto – Alina Ibragimova, violin/ Cedric Tiberghien, piano – Hyperion CDA68200, 71:06 (8/30/19) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] ****:
If lyric intimacy be the food of love, play on! Brahms took inspiration for the first two of his three violin sonatas, 1878 and 1886, from lieder set to the poetry of Klaus Groth (1819-1899). The G Major Sonata (rec. 9-11 May 2018), with its last movement redolent with autumn rain, has held a place apart in my musical canon since the day I heard it with Szigeti and Horszowski. Often in her affectionate rendering of the work, Ibragimova lulls us with the interspersed chorale tunes that emerge even in the midst of the Brahms formula for sonata-form development. The Adagio – Piu andante – Adagio come I movement explicitly invokes a sense of doxology, which soon evolves into a shadow of a funeral dirge, in which the repeated notes hearken, darkly, to the opening of the first movement. Clearly, the element of nostalgia haunts the double stops and the slow tempo, moving ineluctably into the Groth sensibility of the Regenlied: “Flow, rain, flow down to reawaken in me dreams from my childhood.” Tiberghien’s keyboard no less contributes to the valediction of the moment, now hued by the minor mode, as if to dispel those elusive, childhood glimpses of a happy fate.
Contralto Hermine Spies seems the main inspirator for the so-called “Thun” Sonata in A Major of 1886, in which a series of Brahms lieder infiltrate its melodic design. Beyond the influence of poet Groth, Brahms opens the sonata with a motif close in contour to Walther’s “Prize Song” from Wagner’s Die Meistersinger. To offset the idyll, Brahms introduces into the Allegro amabile a more aggressive idea in triplets; though it, too, will metamorphose into a minor-key nocturne that longs for F-sharp minor but resists so that the major key and familiar form may reign.
The F Major Andante tranquillo elicits a warm poise from Ibragimova, who then addresses a jaunty rhythm in shifting metrics. These scherzandi define the shape of the movement itself, which fuses slow movement a dance movement. The main melody will reappear in a bright D Major, but not altogether abandoning the call of F Major. The last movement rondo, Allegretto grazioso, quasi Andante, asks Ibragimova to spin a series on subtle variations a theme arranged – like aspects of the E minor Symphony – in rising thirds. The moments of darker reflection utilize diminished sevenths. The piano part, resonant and deep toned, more than suggests the intensely haunted moments in the later klavierstuecke. The last page, rife with liberated passion, arches upward to an illumined finale.
The D minor Sonata, Op. 108 (1888) replaces poetry with high drama. The piano carries much of the unease below the sotto voce initial bars, syncopated and dynamically subdued. The development section, moving in the violin’s bariolage technique, remains disarmingly static, with the violin’s leaving the repeated notes for a three-note motif that sings; though much of the while the piano has hovered on a pedal A that wants to explode, which it does. The countermelody now offers consolation but in counterpoint. The return in the late pages of the bariolage, in soft dynamics, only increases our sense of spiritual malaise in late Brahms.
Brahms builds his lovely Adagio movement on two themes, using double stops to enrich the melodic texture. Here, Ibragimova competes with other glorious practitioners of the Brahms violin trade: Grumiaux, Francescatti, Morini, Oistrakh, and Szigeti. The prudent application of dynamics and some potent phraseology make this reading memorable. The little third movement, Un poco presto e con sentimento, Clara Schumann declared to be invested with “romantic dalliance.” The gossamer, fleet character has a moment of true, convulsive passion, only to dissolve, wraith-like, into the wistful mist that gave it birth. Brahms writes a last movement, Presto agitato, that combines aspects of tarantella and chorale. Emotionally tumultuous, the music proffers a series of contrasted moods, though the piano part remains agitated, aggressive. The music suddenly breaks off to realize a dark, dirge-like version of itself, the depths often volcanic in the manner of a compressed concerto movement.
As an encore, Ibragimova and Tiberghien pay homage to Clara Schumann (1819-1896) with one of her Three Romances, Op. 22 (1853). Dedicated to violinist Joseph Joachim, who himself had bred many of the Brahms violin oeuvre, the piece offers an extended cantilena in D-flat Major, whose keyboard part no less enjoys the poetic temper. Perhaps the future will grace us with the other two romances, courtesy of this gifted duo. Andrew Keener’s recorded production has been warmly sonorous throughout.