As birthday parties go, this was a damp squib. Alina Ibragimova and her regular recital partner Cédric Tiberghien are presenting all of Mozart’s Violin Sonatas at Wigmore Hall this season. Tonight’s recital – the second in the series – fell on the composer’s 259th birthday, but much as the performances were neat and tidy, the music on offer just wasn’t anything near vintage Mozart.

Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien © Sussie Ahlburg
Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien
© Sussie Ahlburg

Eight violin sonatas were served up, of which five were from Mozart’s childhood. Indeed, three of his first set of four sonatas (K6-9) appeared on the programme, which strikes me as a few too many. Most composers’ juvenilia are swept under the carpet, locked away in a bottom drawer or destroyed. But Mozart is an exception. Revered as a child prodigy, every note he penned must be preserved and held up as an example of his genius. I just don’t buy it. The first four sonatas, written when he was eight, contain earlier musical exercises, some of them based on works composed by his father, Leopold.

They are principally keyboard works with obbligato violin accompaniment, with jaunty Allegro movements and trite minuets. If they’d been composed by anyone else, they’d be long forgotten and nobody would shed a tear over their absence. If you’re going to perform all 35 sonatas in a season, there’s no escaping this juvenilia, but programming five of them in one recital was a clumsy move. Given the keyboard prominence, Tiberghien offered crisp, clean playing, Ibragimova dutifully following his lead.

The Sonata in B flat major K15 was composed while the eight-year old Mozart was in London in 1764. Here, the violin flexes its melodic muscles and Ibragimova responded by presenting the opening statement in different colours each time it recurred. She also brought some welcome wit to the Allegro grazioso finale. The Sonata in D major K29 was from a few years later, on a visit to The Hague. Ibragimova invested the opening Allegro molto with perky animation, but again the closing minuet was unmemorable. Dynamically narrow in range, these early sonatas failed to grab the attention.

It was easiest to judge the quality of the playing in the three later sonatas. Ibragimova played with minimal vibrato, producing a clean, sweet tone, which she never had to force to hold a musical line. Tiberghien articulated phrases neatly, though occasionally erred on the slow side; the opening movement of K402 was more than un poco Adagio. Of the three mature sonatas on the menu, only the Allegro di molto opening to the Sonata in A major K305, reputedly Beethoven’s favourite, contains what might pass as great music. Wisely programmed last in the recital, Ibragimova and Tiberghien tore into it with flamboyant gestures and spirited playing. However, by the time Mozart arrives at the second movement, it was back to musical doodling with a tedious Theme and Variations. The finale of the Sonata in F major K376, which opened the programme, displayed a lively character, with fine exchanges between violin and piano.

Too often though, this programme found Mozart drifting on autopilot and however accomplished the performances, for this wallflower the party never kicked off its shoes.