Lockdown recording yields atmospheric communing between player and violin

Alina Ibragimova: Paganini

The Strad Issue: July 2021

Description: Lockdown recording yields atmospheric communing between player and violin

Musicians: Alina Ibragimova (violin)

Works: Paganini: 24 Caprices op.1

Catalogue number: HYPERION CDA68366 (2 CDs)

I was knocked for six by Ning Feng’s Caprices (reviewed March 2021) and it is difficult to get this typically serious Hyperion production into perspective. It takes two CDs, partly because Alina Ibragimova plays more repeats – No.4, one of her successes, amounts to the sinister timing of 9’11”.

In an endearing addendum to Jeremy Nicholas’s interesting essay, producer Andrew Keener relates how in April 2020 Ibragimova brought him groceries from Waitrose. What was she doing during the lockdown, he asked? Practising the Caprices. They made the recordings on four days in May and June at Henry Wood Hall, in a virtually empty building.

Did this near-solitude affect the performances? Again and again, my notes read ‘a bit slow’. The effect is of an excellent violinist communing with her violin, especially in the atmospheric opening bars of some pieces – nos.1 to 4, 6 to 10, 12, 18, 19 and 24 (apart from a scrambled Variation II) are well played.

I miss Ning’s feeling for narrative. Nos.5, 13, 14 and 23 have over-strenuous passages with discoloured tone, and the Amoroso section of no.21 sounds positively soupy. Overall the recordings are good – in the striking effects of no.23 you almost see the mechanics of violin and bow.