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Grieg: The Violin Sonatas / Hagai Shaham, Arnon Erez

Release Date: 07/11/2006 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67504   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Edvard Grieg
Performer:  Hagai ShahamArnon Erez
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Hyperion’s booklet notes by Fanfare’s Martin Anderson mention that Grieg’s Third Violin Sonata became something of an instant success upon its appearance. Both Kreisler and Heifetz eventually recorded it (the former in partnership with Rachmaninoff; the latter’s performance with Emanuel Bay appeared only recently on “Heifetz Rediscovered,” RCA Victor Red Seal 63907). But, as I mentioned in reviewing Curtis Macomber’s integral recording (Arabesque 6759, 26:6), earlier violinists weren’t inclined to record the complete set. For example, Francescatti, Milstein, and Stern didn’t record any of Grieg’s sonatas. While Heifetz recorded the Second twice (with both Bay and Brooks Smith) and essayed the Third, he never recorded the First. Elman Read more recorded only the First and Third. Nevertheless, the works showcase the violinist’s tone production, though they require a special affinity for Norwegian ethnic inflection.

Hagai Shaham sounds commanding and strong-minded in the First, a work early in Grieg’s output. And he plays with aching poignancy in the introduction of the G-Major Sonata’s first movement, while in the main allegro vivace he returns to a manner both authoritative and propulsive. Grieg never allows the slow movements to sink into immobility in any of the sonatas; in point of fact, all bear one embellishment or another of the basic marking allegretto. And Shaham seems altogether too conscientious in his approach not to take these markings seriously. If his readings of the slow movements of the first two sonatas don’t soften into nostalgic reflection, they don’t languish, either (as did Macomber’s of the First Sonata’s Allegretto). And in the finale of the Second Sonata, he rises to a grand rhetorical conclusion. He and Erez open the Third Sonata with a whirlwind that recalls the same passage in Kreisler’s recording with Rachmaninoff. If, throughout the performances, Shaham seems to press points too aggressively, he also (in partnership with Erez), recaptures, in the gentler or more elfin thematic material, some of that earlier reading’s magic. Perhaps Kreisler’s and Rachmaninoff’s performance would have seemed even more like this one, if the era’s recording techniques had permitted a richer representation of the performers’ tonal splendor. After the first movement’s juggernaut, Erez settles into a more reflective slow movement. But when he enters, Shaham’s tone sounds thick and viscous—in fact, almost Elman-like. And if the reading of this movement might crush the most delicate sensibilities, its warmth and ardor never flag. The finale’s enlivened by sufficient dynamic contrasts to provide relief from Shaham’s intensity in the soaring, climactic, second theme. Unlike Macomber’s set, Shaham’s never flags, and should appeal to those who conceive these sonatas as high-flown Romantic rhetoric in an almost concerto-like vein.

But the collection also includes, as more than a mere bonus, arrangements, crafted by Joseph Achron, of several of Grieg’s shorter works. As Anderson suggests, musicians of our time might simply note that Grieg didn’t write much for violin and piano and leave it at that. But in the golden era of arrangements, violinists weren’t so willing to allow their instrument’s repertoire to go unreplenished. That other illustrious—though, I believe, unrelated—Shaham, Gil, had included an equally striking account of the virtuosic Puck in his collection, Devil’s Dance (Deutsche Grammophon 463 483, 24:3). But Hagai’s reading of the Scherzo Impromptu and the Dance from Jölster provide an equally vivid idea of Achron’s flamboyant manner.

The recorded sound provides a close-up, resonant portrait of both instruments. The inclusion of several short pieces, in Achron’s highly effective arrangements; the vibrant presence of both instruments created by the engineers, who recorded the program in Henry Wood Hall in October 2004; and, of course, the high-flying, if sometimes seemingly unrelieved, rhetoric of both performers, combine to earn Shaham’s version a strong recommendation.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin and Piano no 1 in F major, Op. 8 by Edvard Grieg
Performer:  Hagai Shaham (Violin), Arnon Erez (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Denmark 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 2 in G major, Op. 13 by Edvard Grieg
Performer:  Hagai Shaham (Violin), Arnon Erez (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1867; Norway 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 3 in C minor, Op. 45 by Edvard Grieg
Performer:  Arnon Erez (Piano), Hagai Shaham (Violin)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886-1887; Norway 

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