Wigmore Mondays – Nicola Benedetti & Alexei Grynyuk in late sonatas by Beethoven & Brahms

nicola-benedetti
Nicola Benedetti (violin, above), Alexei Grynyuk (piano, below)

Wigmore Hall, London

Monday, 29 February 2016

Audio (open in a new window)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b071cl1c

Available until 29 March

alexei-grynyuk

What’s the music?

Beethoven – Violin Sonata in G major, Op.96 (1812) (28 minutes)

Brahms – Violin Sonata no.2 in A major, Op.100 (1886) (23 minutes)

Spotify

Nicola Benedetti and Alexei Grynyuk have not yet recorded this music, but other versions can be accessed via the playlist below, in case you can’t get to the broadcast:

About the music

Beethoven’s tenth and last published violin sonata sits on its own in his output, a decade after than the composer’s previous work in the form. It is dedicated to the same ‘Archduke’ (Rudolph of Austria) for whom Beethoven wrote his famous B flat major piano trio, also published in 1812. Beethoven supposedly wrote it in a slightly easier style, as the violinist Pierre Rode – who was performing the piece with the Archduke playing piano – was not as skilful as he once was. The G major piece makes allowances, then – but not in a way that you would ever know from listening! It is unusually tranquil, and has instances of the timeless music Beethoven was to find in the slower movements of his late works.

There are no such concessions to technical ability from Brahms, who wrote the second of his three violin sonatas while on holiday by Lake Thun, Switzerland. This is however a relatively late work, and although Brahms has found and established his style the piece still carries some of the pressures of writing for Joseph Joachim. Its lyrical and tuneful nature have helped make it one of the composer’s most popular pieces of chamber music – and like the Beethoven it has a largely sunny outlook.

Performance verdict

A nice combination of two violin sonatas that seemed ideally suited to a bright Spring lunchtime – and how refreshing to hear young artists such as Benedetti and Grynyuk take on two later works like this.

The Beethoven was lovely, performed in a spirit of enjoyment where the violin and piano really were equals. Benedetti’s tone, slightly sweet, was ideal, while Grynyuk proved a very sensitive pianist, with some lightly brushed contributions that made sense of Beethoven’s unusual contentment.

The same mood infused the Brahms sonata, though here there was a greater sense of purpose, as the first movement, having begun relatively slowly, surged through to a much more animated development section. The finale was also notable for revealing some of the shadows that became a greater part of Brahms’s late works – but overall the feeling was one of positivity, celebrating the composer’s good spirits and warm lyricism in this work.

What should I listen out for?

Beethoven

1:58 – as the piece begins there is an immediate feeling of contentment, and although the opening idea is quite innocuous it is distinctive, with its use of the trill ornament. The piano introduces an airy second theme at 3:10, which the violin soon takes up. The mood is summery, and even a bit drowsy. The first section is repeated again at 4:40. Beethoven then develops his ideas fluently before we hear the main tune once again at 8:31, shared this time by the violin and piano. The balmy warmth continues until the end.

13:12 – the second movement is slow, marked Adagio espressivo, and has that kind of heavenly timelessness often found in later period Beethoven. It has a spacious introduction from the piano and is if anything even more relaxed than the first movement. It operates at a similar tempo and mood to the slow movement from the Emperor piano concerto. From around 14:35 the violin lines become quiet and bare, Benedetti using little vibrato, but the warmth does not take long to return.

19: 19 – the third movement, a Scherzo, is short, and if you blink you’ll miss it! Its first idea is once again light of touch, and though there is a heavier trio section it is not at all long before the minor key asserts itself again.

21:48 – the final movement also has a light touch, with a Haydn simplicity, and is particularly rich in the lower register and strong in the continuous, lower runs. The slower music is a delight, still airy and relatively carefree. There is then a quicker, invigorating run to the end.

Brahms

32:37 – one of Brahms’s most celebrated tunes opens this piece, a lovely outpouring of good feeling. It is quite slow and quiet to begin with but grows into a full blooded interpretation as the theme is developed further. There is greater affection here than in much of Brahms’s output.

42:07 – this is definitely the lighter side of Brahms, with a tender slow movement that segues into a more jaunty Scherzo section (43:32), marked by tumbling triplets in the piano part. The slow movement music follows again at a safe distance (44:38) – and then once again the scherzo music trips along (46:43), this time with plucking from the violin.

49:28 – in the last movement we get the warmth of the violin’s lower register, taking the ‘grazioso’ marking in to account. There are though some shadows that the listener might sense occasionally, the odd harmonic turn towards the dark side that never lasts too long but is there nonetheless.

Encore

54:35 – a substantial encore from Benedetti and Grynyuk, and a very different mood in the exotic and intense Myth no.3 by Polish composer Szymanowski.

Further listening

At the bottom of the playlist you will find some further suggestions for violin and piano in the form of sonatas by Schumann – Brahms’ friend, of course – with his Violin Sonata no.1 – and César Franck, whose own Violin Sonata shares the same key and mood as Brahms’s Second. Finally some shorter pieces by Schumann for solo instrument and piano – the joyous Adagio and Allegro and the 5 Pieces in Folk Style, arranged here for cello and piano. Each will put you in a good mood!

Meanwhile if the Szymanowski appeals, Nicola Benedetti has recorded his Violin Concerto no.1: