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4.0 out of 5 stars The Brilliant Label's Second Set of Grieg's Complete Chamber Music, 14 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Grieg: Chamber Music (Audio CD)
It seems odd, and fortuitous, that this set of three CDs from the Brilliant label -- that marvelous reissuer of worthwhile recordings at marvelously low prices -- is the label's second set of the complete chamber music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907). The first, released in 2004, featured members of the Raphael Quartet and others Grieg - Complete Chamber Works and has been positively reviewed here at Amazon, where it is still available. With the exception of the cello sonata, recorded in 1980, the performances were recorded in the 1990s. The performances on this set are by members of the Moscow Trio (Alexander Bonduriansky, piano; Vladimir Ivanov, violin; and Mikhail Utkin, cello), as well as by Alexander Vinnitsky, violin; Vladimir Ovchinnikov, piano; Alexander Rudin, cello; Vladimir Skanavi, piano; and by a string quartet made up of Alexander Tchernov and Irina Popova, violins; Igor Boguslavsky, viola; and Alexander Rudin, cello. The present recordings were made at the Moscow Conservatory in 1991. So these two sets are roughly contemporaneous and feature mostly Russian or Slavic performers. I wonder if this is because Grieg's often neglected chamber works continued to have a life in the concerts of Russian and the former Soviet Union that they don't in the West.

CD1: The Violin Sonata No. 1 in F, Op. 8 (1865) is a very early effort by Grieg and is mostly pastoral with some Norwegian folklike elements. The Second Violin Sonata in G, Op. 13 (1867) is considerably more dramatic, even somber, than the First. Its second movement is notable for the delicacy and richness of its ornamentation. Its finale is a springdans, a Norwegian leaping dance for men; its rhythms are invigorating. The CD concludes with the single movement, Andante con moto, for piano trio (1878) that was probably slated to be part of a complete piano trio that was never finished.

CD2: Violin Sonata No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 45 (1886-87) features much of what we come to think of as Grieg's lyrical gift. Its form is very much akin to that of sonatas by Beethoven or Brahms; its architecture is easily grasped. Its second movement has a particularly lovely long-limbed cantilena that is played by piano alone for 40-odd measures and then joined by the violin for another 40-odd measures. After a brief intermezzo, the movement ends with the violin playing the melody and the piano accompanying with triplet figures. The finale features two unrelated themes that are never really developed but alternated in various guises. The Cello Sonata in A Minor, Op. 36 (1883) was probably written for Grieg's cellist brother John. It opens with a restless piano accompanying a dramatic yet lyrical cello part. The andante second movement borrows a theme from Grieg's incidental music for 'Sigurd Jorsalfar' written ten years earlier. The sonata ends with a heroic finale with much marcato and insistent rhythms.

CD3: String Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 27 (1877-78) is Grieg's only completed string quartet. He wrote a colleague that it 'is not meant for the general public. It aims for breadth, for vehemence, and above all a powerful sound torn from the instruments for which it is designed'. He goes on to say that he had a great deal of trouble with the quartet, struggling over bringing its form into shape. He comments that he had difficulty staying away from his 'weakness for popular styles'. That said, this is a powerful work and yet has oddities. For instance, there are long passages that don't use all four instruments. The second movement departs from the use of counterpoint commonly used in string quartets; rather it is largely homophonic. It is surpassingly beautiful and played wonderfully here. The third movement largely features a concertante part for the first violin. After a slow introduction, the finale is a saltarello (similar in rhythm to the finale of Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony). The set concludes with two movements from Grieg's uncompleted Second String Quartet. It was subsequently completed by his friend, Julius Röntgen, but we are given only the two movmeents that Grieg had virtually finished. The first movement uses Hardanger fiddle figurations -- the Hardanger fiddle is a Norwegian folk instrument with a tuning that is completely different from the usual violin tuning -- and the second movement is another lively 2/4 springdans.

I have not heard the 2004 Brilliant set, so I cannot compare the performances. I will note that the earlier set uses Röntgen's four-movement completion of the Second String Quartet. But I am mostly satisfied with this set. I will have to get the other set and make a comparison one of these days. For now, I'm content to listen to this set repeatedly.

Scott Morrison
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 12 Jan 2014 17:23:05 GMT
Peter says:
Thank you so much for your detailed and thoughtful review of this set. Wonderfully helpful!

Posted on 21 Mar 2014 16:37:27 GMT
Octave says:
Likewise, cheers.
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J Scott Morrison
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Location: Middlebury VT, USA

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