sat 18/11/2017

Kraggerud, Gimse, Wigmore Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Kraggerud, Gimse, Wigmore Hall

Kraggerud, Gimse, Wigmore Hall

Grieg’s bold Nordic spirit conveyed, but often at the expense of his charm

Henning Kraggerud: fluent in Grieg's folk idiomsKaupo Kikkas

All three Grieg violin sonatas in a single recital may seem like too much of a good thing. The similarities between them outweigh the differences, which are more of quality than intent. But, when heard in chronological order, they provide a fascinating précis of Grieg’s artistic development, from the youthful and cheerfully unsophisticated First, through the terser and more tightly argued Second, to the Third, the composer’s undisputed masterpiece in the genre.

Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud (main picture) is clearly a native speaker when it comes to Grieg. Folk music plays different roles in each of the works – often heard as nostalgic reminiscence in the Second Sonata, but expressed more directly in the First and Third – but Kraggerud brings an ideal fluency that allows him to integrate the folk idioms into the music’s otherwise classical discourse. His tone is robust and, when required, impressively muscular. That is a particular asset when Grieg imitates the Hardanger fiddle, with emphatic downbows on the G-string, or repeating double-stopped drones.

The finale, a classic Grieg stamping dance, was beautifully executedThe downside is a lack of delicacy, especially in the upper register, which can sound scratchy and course. Kraggerud makes everything sound definite and deliberate – undoubtedly virtues here – but only very rarely does he make the music sing.

Fellow Norwegian Håvard Gimse (pictured below left) stood in for an indisposed Kathryn Stott. He too clearly has a deep affinity with this music, and the natural communication between the two players suggested they have collaborated many times before. His relationship with the Wigmore Hall piano was less secure, and while the music was clearly under his fingers, textures were often unclear and tone colour lacked variety.

Even so, the duo made a convincing case for the early First Sonata. As theartsdesk’s Jessica Duchen pointed out in her excellent programme note, the work was written soon after Grieg’s graduation from the Leipzig Conservatory, and the influences of Mendelssohn, Schubert and Schumann are as strong as the work’s Norwegian character. The sense of focus and thematic argument from both players helped to bring out that Germanic side. So too in the Second, a weightier work all round. Some tuning problems at the start of the second movement prevented the melody from floating as it might, but the subtle transitions here from one passage to the next made for elegant and natural progression.

The Third Sonata came off far better, and it was difficult to decide if this was a result of the players having a greater affinity with the music, or just of Grieg’s superior conception. Gimse at last managed to draw colour and clarity from the piano, and Kraggerud’s lines began to sing. After the shaky second movement of the Second Sonata, the second movement of the Third was on a different level, the violinist hardly glancing at his music as he played the long, lyrical opening melody. The finale, a classic Grieg stamping dance, was beautifully executed, the sophistication of the playing never compromising the music’s direct line to its folk roots.

To finish, a subdued encore, Grieg’s best-known song "I Love Only You", Kraggerud’s throaty tone again projecting and sustaining the melodic line. It proved a popular choice with the audience, which, although small, was clearly appreciative and, perhaps unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly Norwegian.

@saquabote

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