For pieces that are not often heard in the concert hall, the violin sonatas of Edvard Grieg are well-served on disc. The third sonata is the best-known of the three; we have recordings from Fritz Kreisler, Toscha Seidel, Jascha Heifetz, and Josef Suk, among others. The abandonment of the sonatas by modern violinists is mystifying, particularly when hearing such persuasive performances as found on this disc.
The first, composed in 1865, is the least-played of the sonatas. This sonata is a more assured composition than the piano sonata (op. 7) written in the same year; harmonically, it is much more interesting, and the overall structure is less stilted. The op. 8 sonata seems to draw more inspiration from folk music than the other violin sonatas; Hemsing successfully imitates the twang of the Hardanger fiddle in the second movement, while Trpčeski doesn’t shy away from the rustic dissonances that Grieg would fully embrace in the much later Norwegian Folk Dances (Slåtter), op. 72. This sonata is a delightful discovery.
Hemsing and Trpčeski have nothing to fear from their storied competition in the other sonatas. The duo combines a sophisticated color palette with a wide dynamic range, and the results are stunning. Hemsing draws forth a husky, whispered timbre in more intimate moments, but is capable of exploding with the sort of concentrated tone that would do Heifetz proud. She is also not afraid to use a bit of old-school portamento; it is a wonderful effect, particularly in the climaxes of the third sonata. If only more modern violinists could be convinced to play with this sort of swing and joie de vivre! Trpčeski digs into the meaty chordal batteries with gusto, but also provides impressive clarity in softer, speedier fingerwork.
The final piece on the album is Hemsing’s own composition, a short set of variations for solo violin on a “folk tune from Valdres.” Piano buffs will recognize the tune used as the basis for Grieg’s “Ballade in the form of variations,” op. 24. The piece is conservative, and does not seem out of place alongside the sonatas.
In trying times, we have a responsibility to find joy wherever we can. Hemsing and Trpčeski provide that joy in spades with their vivacious, probing, and ultimately life-affirming performances.
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Violin Sonata no. 1 in F Major, op. 8 [22:58]
Violin Sonata no. 2 in G major, op. 13 [20:27]
Violin Sonata no. 3 in C Minor, op. 45 [23:48]
Eldbjørg HEMSING (b. 1990)
Homecoming: Variations on a folk tune from Valdres [3:33]
Eldbjørg Hemsing (violin)
Simon Trpčeski (piano)
rec. 2018/19, Sandesaal, Bremen, Germany; Aurdal Church, Norway
BIS BIS2456SACD [72:30]