Baiba Skride (violin) and her sister Lauma (piano, both above)
Wigmore Hall, London, 2 May 2016
written by Ben Hogwood
Audio (open in a new window)
Available until 31 May
What’s the music?
Sibelius Four Pieces Op. 78 (1915-17) (13 minutes)
Vasks Maza vasaras muzika (Little Summer Music) (1985) (10 minutes)
Rautavaara Summer Thoughts (1972/2008) (4 minutes)
Nielsen Violin Sonata No. 2 in G minor Op. 35 (1912) (20 minutes)
In case you cannot hear the broadcast, recordings of the music played can be found on the Spotify playlist below. Neither of the Skride sisters have recorded this repertoire before, but there are other versions picked out instead:
About the music
An intriguing program based on the first instrument of composers Sibelius and Nielsen – the violin. While both composers wrote violin concertos that are either extremely well known (Sibelius) or appreciating gradually (Nielsen) their music for violin and piano is almost shrouded in secrecy.
Sibelius wrote a few sonatas but much more in the way of short pieces for violin and piano, many of which were requested as commissions for the salon market. The four here are characteristic examples of a composer who uses economy in his writing, often ending his pieces abruptly but using music of charm and poise – and inventive textures.
Nielsen’s Violin Sonatas are rarely heard, but the second sonata, completed in 1912, is a substantial piece that shows the composer’s ease with dealing in bigger forms of music. The second sonata falls between the third and fourth symphonies in his output.
We also hear shorter pieces for violin and piano by two composers heavily influenced by Sibelius and Nielsen, the Latvian Peteris Vasks and Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. The warmth felt in both sets of pieces show how Nordic music is not just about the cold!
Arcana was not at the concert at the Wigmore Hall, but listening to the broadcast it is clear of the involvement both performers have in these works.
The deep-seated passion running through the third of the Sibelius pieces is striking and intense, with the technical mastery of what sounds like a tricky Rigaudon very stylishly achieved.
If anything the Second Violin Sonata of Nielsen carries a greater impact, for this is an impressive piece of work whose stature grows with each hearing. It is unjustly neglected for sure, and the Skride sisters give it an excellent performance here, the violinist’s tone especially impressive in the longer notes used by the composer for many of his themes.
Providing light for the relative shade are the works by Vasks and Rautavaara, full of charm, warmth and melodic invention. They complete a program with an outdoor feel, and both performers give this seldom-heard music the fresh performances it deserves.
What should I listen out for?
1:57 Impromptu The first piece of the four has a dreamy piano and more energetic violin, which feels free spirited over the relatively static harmony.
4:01 Romance The sweet tone of the romance is carried by the violin’s melody over a calm piano accompaniment. There is a childlike quality to the main material reminiscent of Schumann, but the music becomes more passionate.
7:14 Religioso A heavier feel to this, especially in the piano, which uses more of the keyboard in its part, and the lower register of the violin too. A melancholy piece.
12:55 Rigaudon A French dance that starts commandingly in the major key but then has a brief shadow of darkness (13:19) when it shifts into the minor. The rhythm is often syncopated in a way that suggests the tango, and the piece ends abruptly – as so many Sibelius pieces do!
16:42 The opening section of this piece (marked Breit, Klangvoll) sounds like bird calls exchanged between the violin and piano.
17:55 A slow episode (marked Nicht Eiland), sweetly sung by the violin.
19:27 A dance, led by the violin, with a rustic, outdoor feel.
21:10 The music takes a serious tone, moving to a minor key, and appears lost in thought.
23:53 – a glittering descent on the piano (a glissando) introduces another folksy section, with an outdoor feel.
25:21 – once again we hear the first section, with its bird calls.
27:14 – Rautavaara’s interpretation of summer is a dreamy one, with a wandering line on the piano, but it gradually gathers its intensity for a passionate middle section, falling back and then gathering once again with the violin holding long, lyrical notes. It then fades into the middle distance.
32:25 – initially the mood is calm, starting on the lowest note of the violin, but the music wanders and soon the violinist is taking charge of a passionate section that includes a grand theme in C major around 34:31. By 37:30 the music is a little lighter on its feet but the exchanges continue to brim with passion. The movement ends with reflection at 39:40.
39:55 – the slow movement begins with a broad melody from the violin. The long notes are countered with a restless piano part. That spills over into a fraught statement at 40:48, after which the music calms down. The piano figure can never be fully shaken off however, and even when the movement ends sweetly at 46:48 it does so with the two note progression the piano used almost all the way through.
47:18 – the third and final movement flows with more serenity, and then the piano at 48:44 introduces a jubilant episode, joined in a high register by the violin. By this point the music has reached E major – the same key Nielsen uses as a home base in his exuberant Symphony no.4 (the Inextinguishable). The music gathers greater energy, and at 51:10 the piano hammers out brittle, percussive notes before the music fades to end.
53:11 – the Mazurka by Sibelius, Op.81/1, the first of five published pieces. This is a piece with plenty of fire in its introduction, but charm when the theme is heard again, softly, at 53:52. The violin has to move between passionate low register tune and a swift upsurge to the high register.
Baiba Skride has recorded both the Sibelius and Nielsen Violin Concertos, and these can be heard in company with Sibelius’ 2 Serenades for violin and orchestra. They are on Spotify here: