Even losing one half of her act could not hold violinist Alina Ibragimova back. When pianist Stephen Kovacevich sadly had to withdraw from this recital at short notice, she simply decided to proceed by replacing Brahms’ Sonatas Nos. 1-3 and Takemitsu’s Hika and Distance de fée with Bach works that she has released on the Hyperion label. In performing four of his six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, all of 1720, she demonstrated the wealth of contradictions that lie at the heart of her playing, and yet which together make up such a coherent and brilliant whole.
Ibragimova’s playing teems with exuberance, and yet she is a master of understatement; her bowing can feel languid and free, though each stroke is precisely measured. Most importantly, she downplays the role of vibrato while producing the most sumptuous of sounds. Even her attire of black sleeveless top, mauve trousers and loose hair (though with the front notably gripped back) brought disparate elements together as it conveyed a sense of natural elegance.
The considerable technical challenges that Bach’s compositions pose held no terrors for Ibragimova. In the Sonata No. 1 in G minor BWV1001 she met the challenge set in the opening Adagio of delivering on three or even four strings simultaneously, her sound being sumptuous and direct, her bowing long yet beautifully poised. The impossibly difficult Fuga that followed was relished with a combination of attack and understatement, and if there was just the odd imperfect moment it only served to remind us of the standard constantly being set for the remainder of the time. The Siciliana brilliantly pitched the ‘voice’ of the lower strings against the ‘accompanying’ upper, while the final Presto saw the length of each bow stroke measured out to perfection.
In the Partita No. 1 in B minor BMV1002 Ibragimova made the Double that follows each movement both a technical and spiritual ally to its forerunner. Particularly impressive was the Double: Presto of the Corrente, in which the bow seemed simultaneously to flicker and shimmer in its semiquaver scales and arpeggios, and the 9/8 passage of the Sarabande, which was delivered with a quiet, yet flowing, intricacy.
The Sonata No. 2 in A minor BWV1003 came after the interval. The programme note explained how the opening Grave possesses the difficulty that the bottom notes of chords are less coherent to the ears than the melodic proliferation above, and yet in Ibragimova’s hands it was hard to detect any problem at all. The Fuga was fully developed, the Andante delivered with meticulous attention to detail, while the Allegro was possessed of some wondrous colours and contrasts.
The Partita No. 2 in D minor BMV1004 is a structurally unusual composition, but with Ibragimova it became clear just exactly what Bach was doing with his positioning of the Giga, and his extended Ciaconna. Indeed, had mine eyes not seen it, I would have genuinely believed that there were two separate violinists playing for parts of the final movement. It seems that Alina Ibragimova was born to play Bach’s solo works, although having witnessed a performance of such a high standard, I suspect that I could have heard the Brahms and Takemitsu and emerged saying exactly the same in relation to those.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org