Viktoriya Grigoreva in Concert

JS Bach
Sonata for violin and keyboard in A, BWV 1015
Sonata for violin and piano in E
Sonata for violin and piano in G
Valentin Silvestrov
Post Scriptum Sonata (UK Premiere)
Sonata No.3 for violin and piano in D minor, Op.108

Viktoriya Grigoreva (violin) & Jill Crossland (piano)

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: 26 September, 2001
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

This was a recital played with commitment, intelligence and deep affection for the music, without a trace of ego or excess. Viktoriya Grigoreva is an established Ukrainian artist now re-establishing her career in the UK, while Jill Crossland is an up-and-coming British pianist; their exemplary partnership is three years old and reports a consistently excellent understanding and rapport. Their programme was also carefully chosen – a tissue of musical influences, reinterpretations and allusions.

There was particular interest in the UK première of Valentin Silvestrov’s Post Scriptum Sonata. Silvestrov is a contemporary Ukrainian composer, part of a musical tradition largely unknown outside his homeland, but gradually being discovered as the end of the Soviet Union has led to a greater ease of cultural exchange. The re-invention of tradition seems to be a salient characteristic of Ukrainian composition; remaking the old is one of the answers to the problem of originality in a classical idiom, but Silvestrov goes beyond this in being happy to label himself ’post-modern’. Post Scriptum Sonata is not only a representation of interrelation between present and past, natural sounds and national references, diatonically familiar and harmonically anomalous sound, but is in some measure built up out of fragments and evocations of the established classical canon.

The piece, from its Bachian opening, is full of references – I am sure Silvestrov would have thought himself intellectually justified to know that I heard different quotations (perhaps one had better say meta-quotations) from those referred to in the tentative programme notes. Beethoven’s Fifth and ’Moonlight’ for sure; also, very distinctly, the second movement of Op.18/4 (C minor String Quartet); Brahms, but just as plausibly, a Richard Strauss song, almost ’Traum durch den Daemmerung’, with the violin ’singing’ over a piano shimmer. Grigoreva and Crossland conveyed classical deconstruction – whether in the fragmentation of the initial melody, or in the otherworldly pizzicato notes at the end – concurrently with a winning sweetness of tone and soundworld.

Grigoreva is clearly an accomplished player, technically secure, and able to vary tone (austere in Bach, expansive in Hindemith) and approach to suit different styles and periods. Her performances were essentially intimate, not melodramatic; one sensed an intention to bring out what was inside the music rather than over-interpret or underline. It was an approach that well suited the meticulously constructed Silvestrov, and gave the other twentieth-century pieces an immediate attractiveness. Jill Crossland was an equal-partner throughout, consistently imaginative and, gratifyingly, quite as strong a musical personality.

Crossland is a Bach specialist, and former Paul Badura-Skoda pupil; this was evident in the Bach sonata. Crossland’s Bach has precision and attack, notably in the polyphonically challenging second movement, or in the second subject of the finale, but without loss of pianistic colour or expressivity. The performance was balanced perfectly, both aurally and musically between the two instruments. Interplay was admirable in this fundamentally unified interpretation: only in the central slow movement could one have wished for more intensity.

In the Hindemith, Grigoreva wished us to remember he was a Romantic as well as a Modern. This was a lyrical and rhythmically exact reading, immediately grabbing the attention with her beauty of sound, and always relaxed without losing control, most notably in the typical sehr lebhaft march-like section towards the end, whose difficulties benefited from the players’ affinity.

As for the late, jazz-influenced Ravel Sonata, Grigoreva maintained the work’s wit and rhythmical interest – with allusions to Shostakovich in the first movement and finale.Bach and Ravel go well together, and Crossland was at home with the pointillist precision of Ravel’s piano writing.Perhaps the finale’s ’perpetuum mobile’ did not quite catch fire, but there were many individual moments of great felicity, notably the guitar-like opening to the ’Blues’ movement, and its perfect match in the piano.

The last of Brahms’s sonatas is one of the peaks of the violin and piano repertoire and the most dramatic of his three. Grigoreva’s relatively restrained approach was in the mould of Suk or Osostowicz rather than Perlman or Oistrakh (to name four classic recordings). Although benefiting from the performers’ closeness, it seems that Crossland is more instinctive with the ’intermezzo’ rather than the ’rhapsody’ side of Brahms’s piano writing; she could have made more of the showpiece passages in the first movement. Conversely, the opening of the development, with its almost ghostly violin and piano melodies over a pedal point, and its reprise and lyrical resolution at the end of the movement, were enchantingly done. In the slow movement, Grigoreva resisted any tendency to self-indulge the aria-like theme, though perhaps lost the chance to make more of the dramatic possibilities when Brahms thickens the violin texture in chords and double-stopped thirds. There was though no lack of tenderness or care in the playing.

The scherzo, depending as it does on the closest co-operation between the duo, was excellent – fleet, witty, always smiling, the melodic fragments expertly echoed. The impressionistic piano figurations, the spirit of a much younger composer, were completely convincing. The piano part of the finale is of legendary difficulty – Crossland did not disguise its demands; nor were the taxing syncopations either flawless in execution or transparent to the audience. This recital, then, did not quite end with the triumphant flourish it deserved.

Two days earlier I had heard another violinist from the former Soviet Union, Alexander Sitkovetsky, in the same hall, also with Bach, Brahms and Ravel. My suspicion is that Sitkovetsky’s more showy persona will bring him the greater renown; for sensitivity to style, musicianship and interpretative insight, I know I would choose Grigoreva and Crossland every time.

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