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Pouty Lips live in San Francisco last Monday

This is at least the third visit to SF by Pouty Lips (Alina Ibragimova), but, owing to time conflicts, I missed her earlier appearances here. I was able to rectify this situation on Monday at San Francisco's Herbst Theater, where she and pianist Cedric Tiberghien appeared as part of the SF Performances series this year. I'd say that the attendance was a bit sparse, with the main level of the hall pretty well filled out, but the upper level (grand tier and boxes) where I was seated having only about twelve or so audience members total.

Unfortunately, on the basis of her recording of the Bach unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas, I kind of knew what to expect with the first piece on the program, Bach's C-minor Sonata for violin and keyboard: the desiccated minimal-vibrato sound which academicians have shamefully held up as an ideal in the performance of 18th-century music. Pouty Lips drank this Kool-Aid long ago, and her playing in this work was not a surprise - I had a good view of the sustained notes, where her finger would just lie dead on the finger-board until the very last second when when she would add the tiniest suggestion of vibrato. All so predicable and of course not in the least interesting. The use of a modern Steinway grand in this performance just made the contradictions of this academically faux-correct playing style all too apparent. Indeed, Tiberghien added to the absurdity by sneaking in a touch of the damper pedal every so often - even though this device (which originally was built as a knee lever rather than a pedal) did not appear on pianos until about 1765 (when Bach had already been dead for 15 years!). A pox on both HIP and "hybrid" HIP performances!

Next, Tiberghien played the Berg Sonata (using music) - probably understandable, but, in a similar situation, I remember a recital by baritone Gerard Souzay wherein his accompanist, Dalton Baldwin, played three Debussy Preludes as part of the program - and Baldwin played from memory. Just sayin'. Other than that, I don't have anything to comment on about the performance. The work is OK, but, really, I've never been tempted to go out of my way to listen to it - kind of take it or leave it for me, even though I've managed to acquire a couple of recordings of it over the years.

The most standard-repertoire work on the program was the Brahms A-major Sonata (which you used to see nicknamed as the "Thun" Sonata - after the town in Switzerland where much of it was composed). In a certain way, this was a very fine performance, especially by Pouty Lips, in terms of dynamic control and heightened expression. The only trouble was (and this, so it seems to me, is becoming more and more a feature of classical music interpretation these days) that the expression was OVER heightened, so that the performance called attention to itself, and thereby distracted from the actual music. (It distracted ME anyway!) In addition (and perhaps I can say this, since I've played the piano part of this work fairly often over the years), I don't agree with the concept of piano sonority which Tiberghien was projecting. I felt that too often, his chords were not voiced in a way which brought the main lines to the fore - it was often a generalized chordal balance in which the component notes of the chord all congealed together, producing a unnecessarily thick sound which covered the violin in inappropriate places. The thing is, it wasn't the dynamic level per se which covered the violin, it was the lack of voicing in the piano chords. Nevertheless, the performance was OK, if you go for exclamation marks at the end of each phrase! (Sorry, that's my father-in-law's line, which I never miss a chance to quote - LOL!)

Pouty Lips and friend

After intermission, Pouty Lips played Ysaye's Sonata No. 5 for solo violin. This was an amazing display of virtuosity, with all kinds of violin techniques pushed to the extreme. Although I like some of these Ysaye unaccompanied sonatas, this particular one is still a bit elusive for me (i.e., musically), but there's no denying the accomplishment and mastery of this performance of what seems to me (as a non-string player) some fearsomely difficult music. (BTW, Ibragimova has a Hyperion recording of all six of these Ysaye unaccompanied sonatas.)

The main program concluded with the Schumann D-minor Sonata, a work which gets surprisingly few performances given the status of its composer. I have seen it performed in concert before however - in this very same locale - by Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich (in a program which consisted of the two numbered Schumann Violin/Piano Sonatas and the two Bartok Sonatas). Kremer was always an interesting artist, despite what many listeners heard as his wiry tone. Pouty Lips was equally interesting while playing with a richer tone. Even the very opening of the piece was immediately recognizable for its different approach: Ibragimova knew how to sustain those opening triple stops in a way which, while respecting Schumann's notated rests, created a special type of intensity and continuity! Brava! (And this ability was displayed at each reappearance of these figures.) The D-minor Sonata is a VERY dramatic work, and, here and in the preceding Ysaye Sonata, the bow began to lose horse hair as the intensity mounted (which was quite often!)

The encore was announced (by Tiberghien) as Schumann's "Abendlied". I had not heard this work before (certainly not for violin and piano), and was thinking perhaps it was a transcription. In any case, the piece had a beautiful stillness about it.

Although I've been to Herbst Theater many times, it struck me again what a beautiful venue this is for a chamber or solo concert - less than 900 seats capacity with eight beautiful murals adorning the side walls (four on each side). These came from the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, and were painted by Frank Brangwyn, a Belgian-born artist who lived most of his life in England. I've seen them many times over the years and always find them enchanting.

View from the stage, Herbst Theater, San Francisco

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Topic - Pouty Lips live in San Francisco last Monday - Chris from Lafayette 18:13:19 04/06/17 (80)


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