J.S. BACH: Violin Concertos – Concerto in a minor, BWV 1041; Concerto in E Major, BWV 1042; Concerto in A Major, BWV 1055; Concerto in g minor, BWV 1056; Concerto in d minor, BWV 1052 – Alina Ibragimova, v./ Arcangelo/ Jonathan Cohen – Hyperion CDA68068, 69:02 (11/13/15) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Recorded 8-10 August 2014, the collection of violin concertos assembled by conductor Cohen and Alina Ibragimova (b. 1985) – playing a splendid-toned 1738 Guarnerius – constitute both original compositions and some reconstructions. Recent scholarship attributes the familiar a minor and E Major Concerto to c. 1730, when Bach had assumed leadership of Telemann’s Leipzig Collegium Musicum. Antonio Vivaldi had instituted a mania for concertos of all sorts in the 1720s, and Bach seized the ritornello forms of the Italian master and concerted them to his own (Teutonic) usage. The outer movements of BWV 1041 retain the energetic, contrapuntal style that elaborates on a dance motif, while the C Major Andante unfolds an extended cantilena over a persistent bass line here rendered somewhat in the manner of a mandolin sonority. The finale, Allegro assai, proffers a 9/8 gigue that sounds quite Italianate, in a bravura style that crosses the string lines. Ibragimova’s sound, wiry and penetrating, has dazzling support from conductor Cohen and his lithe ensemble, the keen resonance provided – here and throughut – courtesy of Recording Engineer David Hinitt.
Markedly more operatic than its companion, the E Major Concerto opens with Vivaldi’s patented three “hammer blows” in the strings, then proceeds to c-sharp minor and a brief cadenza. Taken at a healthy clip by Ibragimova and Cohen, the first movement weaves a ternary structure that fuses instrumental and vocal filigree. The key of c-sharp minor appears for the central Adagio, an “interior” meditation woven by the solo over an ostinato bass. Ibragimova reminds me that another female virtuoso, Giaconda da Vito first revealed the glories of this concerto me in her fine inscription with Rafael Kubelik. Allegro assai, the finale, moves in passepied rhythm in the form of a rondo that asks Ibragimova to render vigorous, lusty – often double-stopped – solo excursions that display her ardent, upward, flamboyant lines.
Scholars concur that the A Major Concerto, BWV 1055 began its existence as a concerto for oboe d’amore. With this concerto, Ibragimova embarks upon the fist of three harpsichord concerto reconstructions. I first became enamored of its suave beauties courtesy of pianist Glenn Gould. The tenor of the piece lies lower in range than its companions, but Ibragimova executes its tender graces – particularly on the g string – with seamless aplomb. The middle movement, Larghetto, presents us a siciliano in the exotic key of f-sharp minor, features a lovely melody in distinctly chromatic syntax. Harmonizing with Arcangelo, Ibragimova makes the movement a lovely Italian evening serenade. Marked Allegro ma non tanto, the last movement, another passepied, urges itself forward rather impulsively, in melodic kernels, while the violin sails aloft and muses affectionately, respectively.
The g minor Concerto has mixed paternity, a cross between a piece originally set for violin and one for the oboe. Its realization for the piano has, to my mind, no finer recorded exponent than Edwin Fischer, although I once heard, in concert, Grant Johannesen in elegant form. For the violin incarnation, my first initiation came by way of Joseph Szigeti, whose wiry tone anticipates Ibragimova. The dreamy Largo has a life entirely its own, even appearing in Cantata 156. In this fine-etched performance, Ibragimova and Cohen follow the oboe version of the cantilena. The galant sensibilities of the outer movements conclude with the spirited Presto, a syncopated gigue of seductive charm.
The imposing d minor Concerto may have come into being in Coethen, most likely as a violin concerto, the most ambitious such composition prior to the Beethoven opus. Austere and dynamic, in six-bar unison periods, the first movement often explodes into motion, utilizing open strings and rapid registration shifts, a testament to Bach’s own gifts on this instrument. The sheer vitality of execution by all principals transforms the Allegro into a spectacular, cross-string toccata. Wait until you hear what Ibragimova does with the quasi-cadenza passages for the last pages! For the sheer pace of this performance – keyboard style – try the Amsterdam collaboration of Gould and Mitropoulos. The g minor Adagio could be taken as a transcription from a Handel tragic opera scene. More torrential fioritura graces the last movement Allegro, a brilliant companion to the first movement, where once more the passion of counterpoint overwhelms us. Ibragimova stuns us yet again with her quasi-cadenza bravura that renders the whole work as idiomatic as anything Gould or Richter realized on the modern keyboard.