The story of the rise of female violinists is probably getting old at this point in time. They have become the mainstays of North American orchestras, have increasingly made in-roads into the male bastions of orchestras such as Berlin and Vienna, and have been dominating international violin competitions for decades. The rising generation of mega-star soloists includes names like Hilary Hahn, Julia Fischer, Nicola Benedetti, Sarah Chang, Janine Janson, and Lisa Batiashvili. You can probably add your favourites to this list.

Last night at Koerner Hall, yet another rising star violinist was introduced to Toronto audiences and demonstrated that she should be included among the world’s elite performers. The thirty-two year old Alina Ibragimova captured the heart and soul of music from the 18th century Baroque, 19th century German Romantic and 20th century avant-garde. She performed with French pianist Cédric Tiberghien, an established solo artist and chamber musician. Together they performed as a duo of equals. The piano and violin each shared the lead in the music of Bach, Brahms, Cage and Schumann.

Alongside their burgeoning solo careers, Ibragimova and Tiberghien have performed as a duo for some time. They have recorded the complete Mozart and Beethoven sonatas for piano and violin as well as the works of Szymanovski and Ravel. They first met as members of the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists scheme in 2005. The unique partnership which developed between the two artists was picked up by The Times, which concluded its review of Cédric and Alina’s final recital as part of New Generation Artists, at the 2007 Cheltenham Festival, by commenting “Both of these players have the potential to conquer the world.” They are currently on a North American concert tour with Toronto being their only Canadian stop. From Toronto, they will travel to San Francisco for their next concert on April 2nd.

Ibragimova and Tiberghien opened last night’s concert with J.S. Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 4 in C Minor, BWV 1017.  Calling this work a violin sonata may be something of a misnomer. As Rick Phillips pointed out in his pre-concert chat, it is really a trio for violin, keyboard and bass (played by the left hand on the keyboard). The interplay of the violin and piano was magical. In the Siciliano, there was rustic gracefulness in the playing with very little vibrato; it ended with the most delicate of trills by the violin. The Siciliano contrasted with the sparkling and buoyant counterpoint of the allegro movements whithin which rhythmic imitation was akin two children playing tag in a playground.

The Brahms Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100 followed. This most beautiful work was played with Romantic warmth and all the “amabile”, “tranquillo” and “grazioso” markings that Brahms included in the three movements. One could instantly hear Brahms’ yearning for his female fascination, singer Hermine Spies, who would come to visit him in Thun, Switzerland during the summer of 1886 when he wrote this masterpiece. The passion in the third movement was surely alluring to all who listened.

Following intermission, John Cage’s Six Melodies gave very different insights into the two performers. Light bell-like sounds from the piano chords and whisper soft bowing from the violin created a study of disparate sounds and musical colours.

The final work on the program, Robert Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 121 was a tour de force. Ibragimova and Tiberghien made the most of the contrasts between the troubling, forceful energy in the opening chords and later moments of tenderness. The third movement, a set of variations on a simple folk-like theme was as beautiful as one could ever imagine. Ibragimova’s last notes in this movement were exquisite.

This was a concert that deserves a return visit. Let’s hope it happens soon. These two artists have been performing as soloists with major orchestras in Europe and North America in addition to their chamber music collaboration. They perform without any pretension in either their dress or deportment. They have a refreshing humility that speaks to the integrity of their musicianship. As an encore, the duo performed Robert Schumann’s Alienlied, (Evening Song) as a gentle good-night and thank you to the responsive audience.

Toronto Concert Reviews will next be at Koerner Hall on Sunday, April 9th for Canadian pianist Louis Lortie performing an all-Chopin program. ​

Alina Ibragimova and Cćdric Tiberghien: a world-class duo is magnificent in its Toronto debut! 

Review by David Richards
Toronto ON April 1 2017

Violinist Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien Duo;

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