Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien interpret Beethoven

A musical pairing of young artists offers a fresh and dynamic take on Beethoven's sonatas, writes Sam Olluver

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 September, 2013, 10:34pm

ALTHOUGH MID-AUTUMN is upon us, there's some spring in the steps of the city's arts organisations this month as they embark on the opening concerts of the new season. Among them is Premiere Performances of Hong Kong, one of the few groups on the classical music scene that's devoted exclusively to chamber music.

Premiere Performances, which were established in 2007, consists of the annual Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival (January 15-23, 2014) and the Recital Series, which presents concerts by established artists and rising musical stars throughout the year.

The Recital Series kicks off on September 22 with the pairing of two of the international scene's most exciting young artists - Russian-born violinist Alina Ibragimova, and pianist Cédric Tiberghien, from France. The two are already well-known recitalists and concerto soloists, and they are certainly worth catching together.

Their partnership started when they met as members of the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists Scheme in 2005; since then, they have given recitals across Europe and in North America. They presented the complete cycle of Beethoven's 10 sonatas for violin and piano in London, during the Wigmore Hall's 2009-10 season, which got the critics buzzing.

The City Hall performance will demonstrate a slice of that cycle in a programme that features three of the sonatas. The first half includes No 3 and No 6, while the second half is given over to Beethoven's greatest work for this combination of instruments, the monumental No 9, Op 47.

The latter is known as the Kreutzer because, on the title page, Beethoven dedicated the work to 18th-century French violinist and composer Rodolphe Kreutzer. This act veiled the story of the work's original dedicatee, violinist George Bridgetower, who gave the first performance in 1803.

Bridgetower, who was born to a Polish mother and West Indian father, died in south London in 1860. He spent his days lamenting the fact that it should have been his name inscribed on the title page, not that of Kreutzer, who never performed the work.

Bridgetower gave the first performance of the work with Beethoven himself at the keyboard; all sorts of stories are attached to the event, including an account of Bridgetower sight-reading his part and adding carefree interjections that weren't on the page, to the unexpected delight of the composer.

But the giddy success of that first performance was soon deflated at a post-concert drinking session, during which Bridgetower inadvertently slighted a woman known to Beethoven. The composer irately demanded the manuscript back, declaring it would now be dedicated to Kreutzer, then one of Europe's foremost violinists.

There's little chance of any similar creative tiffs occurring during the Hong Kong performance; the musical partnership of Ibragimova, 28, and Tiberghien, 38, has already successfully established itself with the Beethoven sonatas.

The International Record Review gave each disc in their three-volume set of the works an IRR Outstanding Recording award.

The artists have performed in Hong Kong several times as concerto soloists. Tiberghien has played works by Chopin, Prokofiev and Ravel with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, while Ibragimova appeared, with the same orchestra, for the Sibelius Violin Concerto in 2005. She returned last year to perform the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.

A similar level of panache will surely be on display in the Kreutzer sonata, even though the work was written much earlier, in the less-unbuttoned classical period.

The work's original title, "Sonata for Piano and Obbligato Violin", is misleading, if typical of the time. The piece makes significant demands on both performers. It was written just before Beethoven's explosive Third Symphony ( Eroica), and is charged with similar drama.

The work's vitality and dynamism test each performer's willingness not to stick rigidly to a blueprint during the performance.

Andrea Fessler, the founder and executive director of Premiere Performances, is delighted to present the duo described by The Observer as "a partnership that mesmerises and captivates".

"From its inception, Premiere Performances has focused on bringing the best to Hong Kong," Fessler says.


City Hall Concert Hall, 5 Edinburgh Place, Central, September 22, 8pm. HK$80-HK$480 Urbtix. Inquiries: 9545 6851


Coming up …

For the second concert of Premiere Performances’ season, Italian classical pianist Alessio Bax and his wife, fellow pianist Lucille Chung, will play Lutoslawski’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini for Two Pianos, Stravinksy’s Petroushka, Ravel’s La Valse and Piazzolla’s Libertango at City Hall’s Concert Hall on November 5. Don’t miss it.