Sonata No.1 in F for Violin and Piano, Op.8
Sonata No.2 in D minor for Violin and Piano, Op.121
Ilya Gringolts (violin) & Ashley Wass (piano)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 20 September, 2010
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
A week prior, the BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert season began with violin sonatas by Richard Strauss and Brahms. In the context of that concert, an outing for two less commonly played examples of the form was extremely welcome, and offered a chance to compare and contrast the different approaches of four Romantic composers.
The Grieg is an early work, feeling at times like a student exercise as the first of his three violin sonatas. That said there is enough originality for the piece to stand on its own. Ilya Gringolts and Ashley Wass chose to make the most of this, projecting the surprise as the music began in E minor, a long way from its home-key destination, before the shift to F major and an extremely full tone from the violinist. There was also stress placed on the departure of the first movement coda, a slow afterthought after some capricious dance-based themes. The most memorable movement of the three is the second, where Grieg refers to his Norwegian roots in an obvious way by making the violin play open strings, fiddle-style, with a lightly folksy melody to match. There was a pleasing rustic feel to the way Gringolts and Wass approached this passage, with something of the open air.
Schumann’s Second Violin Sonata is a meaty work, one to rival Richard Strauss in terms of its big dimensions and virtuoso demands on the performers. Yet where as the Strauss has a celebratory air, Schumann conveys much more of a struggle, the opening bars fraught with tension. Its first performance was given by Joseph Joachim and Clara Schumann, with the violinist praising the work’s “marvellous unity of feeling and thematic significance”. In this excellent performance Gringolts was powerfully effective with his double-stopping, nailing each of the tricky combinations, while Wass was particularly good at finding rhythmic definition within the complex writing for the piano. The two also brought an appropriate air of mystery to the tricky pair of middle movements, where a relatively traditional scherzo segues almost imperceptibly into a slow movement Theme & Variations by way of a chorale theme. There was an otherworldly air to Gringolts’s pizzicato when this was outlined in the slow movement, which remained on edge until more legato passages brought the music to safer ground. The struggle resumed in the finale, a sense of victory ensuing in the coda, and its brilliantly executed shift to the major key.
As a substantial encore Gringolts and Wass offered more Schumann, the second of his Opus 94 Romances.