Now that digital sound is thirty years old, there's many an excellent recording to be licensed and repackaged by enterprising labels like Brilliant; this 3CD set is typical of their output and furnishes the Grieg enthusiast curious to explore the less renowned byways of his oeuvre with the means to do so at minimal cost or risk.
All the artists here are distinguished practitioners and their playing can be recommended with confidence. My interest was initially in the two - well, one and a half, as the second was completed by Grieg's friend Julius Röntgen - string quartets Grieg wrote. I wanted to compare them in their original form with a disc of arrangements for string orchestra and this recording by the Raphael Quartet seemed the most promising and the Violin and Cello Sonatas came with the package unless I wanted to buy the same recording of the String Quartets on Regis for very little less cost.
I am in no way disappointed by either the music or the performances. Although another review found the Violin Sonatas under-characterised I in fact enjoyed them just as much as the other musical forms here; in some ways their free-flowing melodiousness, with their preponderance of Allegro and Allegretto markings and emphasis upon insouciance, makes them closer to the Grieg with whom I am more familiar, especially with regard to the influence of Norwegian folk music. The big exception is the almost tzigane-like flavour of the Lento which opens no.2, to which Czech violinist Ivan Zenatý responds eloquently.
The String Quartets are immaculately played, bringing out the richness of texture which lends itself so easily to transcription for full string orchestra. There is a full-blooded, singing quality to the Raphael's playing and their freedom allow us to relish the juicy sonorities achieved by Grieg's constant double-stopping. The swiftly descending first subject is typical Grieg: light yet laden with feeling.
Disc 3 gives us the darker, more mature Cello Sonata, in which I hear the heavy influence of Brahms' works in the same genre, and two fragments from another abandoned String Quartet and a Piano Trio.
It is difficult to see how this set could be bettered at this price - or indeed any.
I agree totally with the review by Ralph above. This disc is a wonderful example of the really true rewards available within music to those who are prepared to explore and step outside the 'standard' chamber music repertoire. There is glorious music to be discovered and enjoyed here, it is fresh, exciting and makes you smile! For those already familiar with much of Grieg, this is a real treat and some of the thematic material and harmonic content will be found to be familiar or not unlike some other work from this overwhelmingly lovable composer. Beautiful music, superbly played and fantastic value for money, what more could you want?? Unhesitatingly 5 stars!!