VIERNE; FRANCK Violin Sonatas (Ibragimova & Tiberghien)
While we’re not short of top-drawer recordings of Franck’s Violin Sonata, I’m still not sure whether I’ve ever encountered it sitting within such a musically and musicologically tempting programme as this one from Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien. Not, I might add, that the Franck Sonata should necessarily be seen as the main event here, despite its fame. Au contraire, one of the chief draws is the way it sits in equal balance within the whole, each work informing and being informed by its neighbours.
To deal first with the programming, all paths (or almost all paths) lead back to the great French violinist Eugène Ysaÿe: his Poème élégiaque of 1892, based on the tomb scene of Romeo and Juliet, followed by the Franck Sonata, which was a wedding present to him in 1886, and the 1908 Violin Sonata he commissioned from Franck’s fellow organist-composer Louis Vierne. Then a final petit four in the form of Lili Boulanger’s Nocturne, written only three years after the Vierne but ushering in a new era with its slightly leaner aesthetic and its final little quotation from Debussy’s L’après-midi d’une faune.
As for the actual sound, superb playing and ravishing engineering intertwine here to stunning effect. It’s a modern set-up – Ibragimova on a 1775 Anselmo Bellosio strung with metal, with Tiberghien on a very beautiful and relatively new Steinway D – and it serves as a reminder that you don’t necessarily need period instruments to bring a lightness and air-filled delineation to these densely textured late-Romantic works. (In fact, note here that if your personal taste is for something slightly lusher-textured or bigger-boned then you may wish to stick with Dumay and Pires, or perhaps Hadelich and Yang).
Still, listen to the sombre depth and steadily direct tone Ibragimova brings to the Poème élégiaque’s central grave et lent section, and the rich sonority of Tiberghien’s accompanying death knells. Or the gripping passion with which Ibragimova delivers both its soaring long lines and its virtuoso moments.
Moving on to the Franck, soak up the weightless, time-suspended softness with which they begin: from Ibragimova a sweet, even sound that’s light-toned without being lightweight, supported by a touch from Tiberghien at the keyboard that sounds like mellow, amber-hued raindrops, and all the while a gradual crescendo and strengthening of tone from both so subtle that it happens almost imperceptibly. Another joy is the expansive third movement with its succession of contrasts between crescendos to climaxes – which come long-spun, unegged and noble from Ibragimova – and the softest and sweetest of pianissimo dolcissimo interludes. Then after that, hear the further contrast provided by the final movement’s sunny-hued velocity.
The Vierne Allegro risoluto equally showcases sharper-edged energy, and yet more golden tenderness with its Andante sostenuto. Add the palette-cleansing Boulanger, and this is wall-to-wall wonderful.