August 26, 2019. In this week’s Classical Album of the Week, Russian-British violinist Alina Ibragimova continues her long-standing musical collaboration with French pianist Cédric Tiberghien in a new recording including Brahms’ Violin Sonatas and one of Clara Schumann’s Three Romances.
Ibragimova and Tiberghien met in 2005 as part of the BBC New Generation Artists scheme and began concertizing together in 2007. This duo has covered a lot of ground in the last decade, having recorded and toured the repertoire by Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Ravel, Vierne, Janáček and Szymanowski.
In 2018, they performed the Brahms program heard on this new album in a recital at London’s Wigmore Hall. Warmly received, that performance was followed just a year later with the release of this new album — right on the heels of their March release of the Vierne and Franck sonatas.
Ibragimova’s bundling of the Brahms and the Clara Schumann selections may well be musically motivated — these 19th-century works not surprisingly share a similar soundscape and musical vocabulary. What also binds these together are themes of friendship, song, and summertime.
Brahms’ first Violin Sonata in G Major is believed to have been written with his friend, violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim, in mind. It was composed alongside Brahms’ Violin Concerto in the summer of 1878 while at Wörthersee Lake in southern Austria.
The second violin sonata was written “in anticipation of a beloved lady friend”, contralto Hermine Spies, who was also the dedicatee for some of Brahms’ beloved songs and who had visited Brahms during the summer of 1886 at a resort near Switzerland’s picturesque Lake Thun. Both this and the first sonata are rooted in melodic ideas that originated in the songs he set to poems by his friend, Klaus Groth.
That 1886 stay in the Swiss resort is also thought to be the setting in which Brahms composed his third sonata, even though it was not published until a few years later. This work was dedicated to a close friend, Hans von Bülow - a conductor with whom Brahms enjoyed a warm, lively correspondence.
Bülow championed Brahms to such an extent that not only did he conduct many of Brahms’ compositions, he also coined the phrase “the three B’s — Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms," elevating him to the loftiest heights in this adage that has persisted all the way into the 21st century.
Another friend of Brahms’ made a mark on this third sonata — pianist and composer Elisabeth von Herzogenberg. She received a copy of the manuscript and subsequently provided notes to Brahms — a few of which he took on board and incorporated into the final movement.
The album’s last work, one of the Three Romances by Clara Schumann, was also composed in the summertime — more than 20 years earlier than Brahms’ three violin sonatas. Like Brahms, she was a friend of Joseph Joachim, and the two performed her Romances frequently on tour after the premiere in 1855.
With the 200th anniversary of Clara Schumann’s birth just around the corner, this performance by Ibragimova and Tiberghien offers a great teaser for what’s to come in September when we mark that bicentenary with a deep dive into her work.