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GRAMOPHONE (11/2015)
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Reviewer:  Jonathan Freeman‑Attwood


In all likelihood, Bach composed 20 or more violin concertos, mainly at Weimar and Cöthen, and yet tantalisingly we are left with only two works for a single soloist – more often than not joined at the hip with the celebrated ‘Double’. The fashion these days is to return to Bach’s own transcriptions for keyboard as a repository for some speculative reworkings, and this approach inspires Alina Ibragimova’s varied, committed and poised readings of five solo concertos.


Defining the landscape is Jonathan Cohen’s elegant and spontaneously coloured palette summoned from Arcangelo, heard so startlingly in a fine Mass in B minor last year (11/14) and now redeployed to provide a sensuous ‘period’ accompaniment to Ibragimova’s style-aware modern playing. How far we have come in blurring the boundaries of previously polarised Baroque performing traditions.


If Ibragimova is occasionally caught between two stools in whether (or not) to follow her instincts, the best performances are brazenly alive, responsive and unselfconscious, underpinned by the softgrained luxuriance of the lute continuo (note the assuaging sweet-and-sour hues of the slow movements of both the A minor and E major concertos, BWV1041 & 42) and a highly modulated use of dynamics.


The most problematic ‘transcription’ here is the A major (BWV1055), a work that has confounded scholars as to its true provenance, not least owing to its low register and figuration that seems almost deliberately unidiomatic. A somewhat hearty, even bullish, onslaught by Ibragimova rather misses the point in the opening movement – even if the clear springs of intrinsic radiance are, however, restored later in the work. If the strumming lute can seem a touch overbearing, the ‘Frenchified’ turns, manners and whims bring a delectable quality throughout.


The E major Concerto is triumphantly joyous, and we can also admire the thoughtful conceits of the G minor (BWV1056), despite a few awkward corners in intonation; the sublimely succinct slow movement reveals Ibragimova’s vibrato as an expressive tool of considerable discernment. Yet it’s the soloist’s unerring focus and resolute direction which see her flying through the D minor Concerto (BWV1052) with magnificent bravura. Her tendency to push the tempo contributes to the fireworks in the outer movements: an admirable riposte to the tyranny of the metronome! This is an outstanding and distinctive addition to a catalogue bursting at the seams.  

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