Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Violin Sonata No.2 in G major, Op.13 (1867) [20:21]
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Violin Sonata No.2, Op.35 (1912) [19:24]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Four Pieces for Violin and Piano, Op.78 (1915-19) [11:23]
Wilhelm STENHAMMAR (1871-1927)
Violin Sonata in A minor, Op.19 (1899-1900) [20:11]
Baiba Skride (violin)
Lauma Skride (piano)
rec. September-October 2015, Studio Britz, Berlin#
ORFEO C913161A [71:49]
The Skride sisters have programmed a quartet of Nordic compositions that wears a very attractive look. They’ve preferred the second Grieg Sonata to the ubiquitous third, have selected well with Nielsen’s own second sonata, added Stenhammar’s Op.19 and for good measure – and it is good measure as the disc lasts 72-minutes - also included Sibelius’s Four Pieces, Op.78.
The inward and melancholic way Baiba opens the Grieg announces a reading of malleable discovery, as if the violin is slowly disclosing itself. This is a wholly different approach to the oratorical muscularity of Shumsky or Oistrakh, much less the febrile nuances of Heifetz, whose glacial refinement offers another viewpoint altogether. Skride’s wistful reflections show that she is not out to make a big sound, preferring windflower wistfulness. But whilst she’s not as folkloric as some, she is playfully flightly with excellent fast bowing and plenty of life and lift to her zesty rhythm. Her Allegretto, excellently abetted by Lauma, proves warm-hearted but clean; free of extraneous gesture. Some here may yearn for the romantic explorations of Shumsky or, indeed, the first exponent of the work on disc, Albert Sammons, whose glorious reading on 78s with William Murdoch should be transferred to CD without delay. The energy level doesn’t sag in the finale which is faster than most. The Skride sisters therefore journey from tremulous restraint into glorious sunshine – an apt, convincing trajectory.
There’s no attempt to inflate the Nielsen either. As one wedded to the old 1938 reading by two heroes of the Nordic discography, Erling Bloch and Holger Lund-Christiansen, I always find the character of the music wholly changed by the tempo decisions taken in this sonata. With Bloch and his ever-reliable sonata partner, the fast tempi ensure that the music emerges crabbier, its romantic moments more contingent and unstable, always liable to fissure and crack. This element of the music being on the edge of fracturing is something I miss in the Skride sisters’ recording, which makes the music sound a touch too conventional. The fragile expression of Bloch’s honeyed tone in the slow movement is, in any case, unforgettable.
There aren’t many competing versions of the Stenhammar. It’s a work David Oistrakh performed in Sweden in 1971 but more centrally-speaking Tale Olsson and Lucia Negro recorded it on BIS764. In any case the Stenhammar occupies a strong middle ground stylistically. Its themes are attractive but never desperately distinctive. The Skride sisters measure each movement well – all three are very similarly sized – and do especially well in the avuncular wit of the finale. But don’t look to the sonata for evidence of Stenhammar’s best music. The charming Sibelius set is played with reserved innocence, with the exception of the goulash-infused Rigaudon.
This most enjoyable recital is sharply characterised and beautifully recorded and well annotated. The duo very properly has its own ideas as to how the music should go, so some will find the Grieg romantically short-changed and the Nielsen lacking in angst. But there’s no faulting the instrumental finesse and commitment.