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Briefly Noted: Mendelssohn Violin Sonatas

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Mendelssohn, Violin Sonatas, Alina Ibragimova, Cédric Tiberghien

(released on March 4, 2022)
Hyperion CDA68322 | 67'04"
Both violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Cédric Tiberghien got into my ears through their recordings of the music of Bach. Neither performer has made the trip to Washington in several years, so it has been a delight to keep up with their musical partnership on disc, which has extended into Romantic music. After their wonderful Brahms album was briefly noted a few years ago, this collection of the Mendelssohn violin sonatas now gets a mention. Washington classical music presenters, if you are reading, someone needs to bring this duo here soon.

As one is reminded in the superb program notes by preeminent Mendelssohn scholar R. Larry Todd, Mendelssohn was a child prodigy not only as a composer and pianist but as a violinist. He began to study the instrument at age 10, forming a long friendship with his teacher, the virtuoso Eduard Rietz. According to Mendelssohn's composition teacher, Carl Friedrich Zelter, the composer became a violinist "of professional calibre," taking part as both violinist and violist in a number of public performances. Mendelssohn dedicated to Rietz, who died of consumption at only 30 years old, the only violin sonata he ever published, his Op. 4, as well as the brilliant, youthful String Octet, with its extra-florid first violin part as a tribute to his teacher.

This disc includes excellent renditions of Op. 4 and of the two complete violin sonatas in F major that Mendelssohn never published. All three pieces are worth hearing, but the second one, from much later in Mendelssohn's life, stands out. He drafted the piece in 1838, when he held the director's post in Leipzig, intending it for the hands of Ferdinand David but ultimately abandoned it. Mendelssohn's two original autograph versions of the piece's first movement, one a revision of the other, remained unpublished until the Mendelssohn anniversary in 2009: this recording uses the initial, unrevised first movement. The other curiosity is the fragment of a violin sonata in D major, left incomplete after 367 measures of its first movement. It opens oddly, with a probing violin melody over quiet chords, leading to a fast theme that turns toward minor. An unexpected return to the major key feels like a temporary solution to make some sort of ending, after which the music trails off.

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