Grieg: Cello Sonata in A minor, Op. 36; String Quartet in G minor, Op. 27

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LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Cello Sonata in A minor, Op. 36; String Quartet in G minor, Op. 27
PERFORMER: Truls Mørk (cello), Håvard Gimse (piano), Sølve Sigerland, Atle Sponberg (violin), Lars Anders Tomter (viola)
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45505 2
The Quartet and the Sonata are relatively close: the Quartet is from 1878 and the Sonata, written for Grieg’s cello-playing brother John, followed five years later. Like Leif Ove Andsnes’s recent set of the Lyric Pieces, the Sonata was recorded at Grieg’s home, Troldhaugen, on his own piano. Truls Mørk recorded it some years ago with Jean-Yves Thibaudet (Virgin) and plays with ardour and sensitivity, and Håvard Gimse is a wonderfully alert and intelligent partner. There are a dozen or more versions of the Sonata but this strikes me as the strongest and most compelling. The G minor String Quartet is one of Grieg’s most deeply-felt pieces and gave Grieg a lot of trouble (the first movement completely changed direction during the course of its composition). There is no doubt as to its autobiographical overtones: he told the composer Iver Holter, ‘I had a big spiritual battle to fight, and I used a great deal of energy creating the first movement of the Quartet there among the dark mountains of the Sørfjord.’ It is more often than not coupled with the unfinished F major Quartet of 1890 which Julius Röntgen completed after the composer’s death. There are numerous versions of quality – the Chilingirians (Hyperion), the New Helsinki Quartet (Finlandia) and the Oslo Quartet (Naxos) – but the four artists assembled here can hold their own with most of the competition. They convey the freshness and passion which infuse this vital and often poignant score. These now become benchmark recordings. Robert Layton