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Confession time: I had never previously rated Grieg’s three sonatas for violin and piano, probably because I had never heard them in such committed, thoroughbred performances as these by Swedish violinist Christian Svarfvar. Lighter than the Brahms sonatas, sweeter than Schumann’s, they have been consigned for too long to the edges of the repertoire, and it takes a musician with a special understanding of the Norwegian composer’s melodic fantasy to open our ears to music of such balmy charm and vitality.
The best known of the three is the second sonata, opening with a Lento doloroso-Allegro vivace that oscillates engagingly between the elegiac and whimsical: Svarfvar and the ever-supportive Kjekshus capture it to perfection. The naive first sonata is dominated by a folk-like idiom, the third by long shadows that verge on the tragic, and it’s the Janus-faced temperament of this last piece – impassioned one moment, reflective the next – that Svarfvar projects with particular grace.
Grieg’s romantic cantabile rides on such a fluent variety of ideas that listening to all three sonatas in quick succession is pure pleasure, buoyed by Svarfvar’s fearless expression, rock-solid technique and stylistic acumen. This gifted violinist has done us – and Grieg – a big favour, and we must hear more from him.
Christian Svarfvar/Helge Kjekshus
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