Nicola Benedetti & Alexei Grynyuk at Wigmore Hall – Beethoven & Brahms

Sonata in C minor for Piano and Violin, Op.30/2
Sonata No.1 in G for Violin and Piano, Op.78

Nicola Benedetti (violin) & Alexei Grynyuk (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 10 October, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Nicola Benedetti. Photograph: Simon Fowler/UniversalIn this BBC Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall, Nicola Benedetti and Alexei Grynyuk focused on two well-loved examples of the violin sonata, one by Beethoven, one by Brahms.

Beethoven stated explicitly that his sonatas for this instrumental combination are “for piano, with violin accompaniment.” Benedetti was careful not to be too demonstrative as Grynyuk gave a clean, crisp account of the first movement’s main theme. If the performance did not quite portray this work as one of Beethoven’s stormy C minor utterances, it did nonetheless contain a frisson of drama. With Benedetti’s vigorous double-stopped interventions and the almost-obsessive bothersome lower register trill from Grynyuk, there was plenty to commend the players’ approach. The slow movement, following the pattern of a C minor counterpart such as the ‘Pathétique’ Piano Sonata and anticipating the Fifth Symphony, is cast in A flat. The duo found an uneasy period of relative stillness in its middle section amidst the consonant music either side. This was in direct contrast to the energetic scherzo, with an impressive unity achieved between the musicians. The fast music remained fresh, the obdurate piano and violin battling it out but remaining equals right through to the brisk sign-off, though more could have been made of the smile on the music’s face when it reaches the major key.

Offsetting the Beethoven was one of Brahms’s sunniest chamber works, the G major Violin Sonata – full of song-like melodies and warm harmonies. The contours of the work’s principal themes suited Benedetti extremely well, but in particular that of the slow movement, where she was expressive while not wringing the final ounce of emotion from it. In her softer double-stopped playing there was the occasional loss of definition, and some of the very highest notes were a little flat, but this was a small price to pay for such an affectionate account. There was noticeably more vibrato from Benedetti, complementing the lyrical melodies that make this Sonata so attractive, and which added an appealing sweetness to the tone. The nervous energy was greater at the start of the finale, the mood of anxiety growing, though this resolved with a serene coda that was all the more rewarding given what had gone before.

As a generous encore Benedetti and Grynyuk performed the poetic second movement of the Sonata by Richard Strauss.

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