Grieg: Violin Sonata No. 1; Violin Sonata No. 2; Violin Sonata No. 3

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Violin Sonata No. 1; Violin Sonata No. 2; Violin Sonata No. 3
PERFORMER: Hagai Shaham (violin), Arnon Erez (piano)


Grieg’s three violin sonatas used to be staple fare for the young aspiring virtuoso, whereas it is only the Third which is encountered with any frequency nowadays. Grieg can usually be relied upon to find a good tune to get himself out of trouble, and in the Third Sonata he also feels unusually at home with sonata procedures.

There’s drama a-plenty, and the melodies are no mere window dressing but carry a bittersweet pathos all their own. That said, the First Sonata is one of Grieg’s most underrated works, a Schumannesque sequence of first-rate ideas peppered with premonitory suggestions of the proto-Delian chromaticisms that would become such a distinctive part of his late style. The Second is more nationalistically inclined, in places rather like an embryonic pre-echo of the celebrated Piano Concerto.

To bring these highly contrasted works fully to life one has to trace a convincing path between indulging their wide-ranging emotional content and keeping a secure hand on the structural tiller. If Lydia and Elena Mordkovich (on Chandos) occasionally stifle Grieg’s essential naivety with playing of overwhelming charismatic intensity, Hagai Shaham and Arnon Erez on this new, glowingly engineered Hyperion disc play things just a shade too cool at times.


This helps keep the more impassioned outbursts in check, but when the music turns inwardly poetic, they sound less than seduced by Grieg’s aching harmonic suspensions. Turn to Augustin Dumay and Maria João Pires (DG), and form and content is so perfectly balanced that one can only sit in wonder. Julian Haylock.