Baiba Skride and Lauma Skride Perform Sonatas for Violin and Piano by Grieg, Nielsen Sibelius and Stenhammar

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COMPOSERS: Grieg,Nielsen Sibelius,Stenhammar
LABELS: Orfeo
ALBUM TITLE: Grieg • Nielsen Sibelius • Stenhammar
WORKS: Grieg: Violin Sonata No. 2; Nielsen: Violin Sonata No. 2; Stenhammar: Violin Sonata, Op. 19; Sibelius: Four Pieces for Violin and Piano, Op. 78
PERFORMER: Baiba Skride (violin), Lauma Skride (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: C 913 161 A

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With the exception of the Nielsen, it would be easy to mistake these as slight pieces, salon sweetmeats. Or you could make the other mistake of trying too earnestly to bring out real, or imagined depths beneath the charming surface, and in doing so lose the charm. Latvian musicians Baiba and Lauma Skride do neither. I’ve never heard the opening of Grieg’s Second Sonata sound so gorgeously, openly melancholic, but the way it eases into the smiling folk-inflected allegro that follows is wonderfully natural. Nothing, one feels, is being added to this music: it is all a loving, intelligent drawing out, and the recordings serve the musicianship to perfection. 

Sometimes, as in the modal Impromptu from Sibelius’s Vier Stücke, the results are surprising. This could be the beginning of a Violin Concerto – its sudden ending feels more like the breaking off of a substantial and very promising sketch. 

Stenhammar’s relatively early Violin Sonata combines romantic ardour and lyrical generosity with playfulness in a manner not quite like anyone else. This is very much a sonata ‘for’ the violin, and Baiba Skride clearly relishes its masterly solo writing. But even here the sisters are very much a duo, and that finely-honed teamwork comes to the fore in the Nielsen. For me, this was the first time this strange, complex piece really made sense. The old genial, pastoral Nielsen is still here, but he’s caught in an uneasy tussle with an angry, apprehensive, thoroughly 20th-century shadow – the latter gaining strength, and eventually centre-stage. The performance is wonderfully judged and executed throughout, and Lauma Skride’s rapid repeated notes at the end are truly spine-tingling – it made me want to go straight back to the beginning again and learn more. 

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Stephen Johnson