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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67504
Recording details: October 2004
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Eric Wen
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: June 2006
Total duration: 20 minutes 16 seconds

'The playing is outgoing and communicative, and each movement makes a distinct positive impression. In vivacious movements the sheer verve of the playing is irresistible … an extremely enjoyable issue' (Gramophone)

'Following beautiful discs of Bloch and Hubay, Hagai Shaham offers us a remarkable album of Grieg. Dominated by musical quality without fault, these interpretations are also worth for perfect balance between the two instruments … in the three sonatas Shaham knew how to preserve a mixture of simplicity and thrifty lyricism which characterizes them … a beautiful good album' (Diapason, France)

'It is always a treat to get a Shaham-Erez recording to review … in this recording the violin and piano are treated as equal partners. Both instruments are reproduced in a way that allows everything to be heard in the musical equivalent to full natural color. Their musicianship is superb' (American Record Guide)

'Any rival versions to this Hyperion disc will have to be truly exceptional, for this issue is, in almost every respect, going to be hard to beat. The recording quality is first-class—the balance between the instruments is ideal, and the performances have clearly been thought through with considerable musicianship. This is a first-rate issue' (International Record Review)

'A strong recommendation' (Fanfare, USA)

'For each sonata has its own distinctive personality, while each also finds the composer in full command of the duo combination as a partnership of equals. Full marks then to the collaboration of Shaham and Erez, and to the Hyperion recording, which has such a natural perspective. For example, the violin tone in climactic passages, such as the second movement of Op 8, is particularly imposing and effective. The two players bring to the music a spontaneous flow … as a mark of their success, great moments such as the arrival of the ‘big tune’ in the dance-like finale of the Sonata No 3 can be heard for all they are worth’ (MusicWeb International)

'In these brilliant, exuberant and flawless performances technical means and exquisite interpretations are bound together in a pure and attractive manner … prick up your ears especially for the magnificent transition to melancholy in the Allegretto tranquillo of Sonata No 2 … this is a superb duo' (Luister, Netherlands)

'Hagai Shaham et Arnon Erez ont su nous faire entendre tour à tour les motifs principaux sans véritable 'amalgame' de leurs voix, ont pu trouver une grande homogénéité de style et un parfait équilibre sonore et ont réussi à faire resortir toutes les innovations mélodiques, harmoniques et rythmiques imaginées par Grieg' (Classica, France)

Violin Sonata No 1 in F major, Op 8

Allegro con brio  [8'46]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
It took Grieg a little while to marry form and folk. His Violin Sonata No 1 in F major, Op 8, was composed in 1865, when Grieg was twenty-two. It begins with two chords in the piano—an echo, conscious or otherwise, of the two chords (Beethoven’s drastic compression of the introduction to the Classical symphony) that launch the Eroica Symphony. There’s another Beethoven connection, too: the key, F major, is the same as that of Beethoven’s ‘Spring’ Sonata, and indeed there is a spring-like freshness about Grieg’s invention throughout this work. He tackled sonata-form not on its own ground but by overwhelming it with a profusion of lyrical ideas. Even so, he is careful to set them in context: he could, for example, have begun the work with the Allegro con brio idea that launches the movement proper—but those two chords, in E minor and A minor (the tonic and subdominant triads of E minor), immediately give it the feel of the sun coming out from behind the clouds, highlighting its rustic charm. Again and again you can hear Grieg standing back from the onward rush of melody with a brief gesture that enhances its effect. Although there are discreet echoes of Norwegian folk-music in the first movement (not least in the modal inflections of much of the melodic material), it is not until the second—which is both slow movement and aba scherzo and trio—that he explicitly simulates the music of the hardingfele, with the trio presenting the double-stopping and pedal points of a springar. But the outer sections feature another Grieg fingerprint, also folk-derived: a falling three-note figure, a minor second followed by a major third—here A, G sharp, E, but you also have it at the start of the opening tune of the Piano Concerto, for example. It occurs in Grieg’s music so often that it is sometimes referred to as the ‘Grieg motif’ or ‘Grieg formula’. The finale, like the first movement, builds its structure from a chain of three contrasting melodies that sparkle like a mountain waterfall.

Grieg himself played the piano in the first performance of the work, in Leipzig in mid-November 1865, during a stop-over on his way to Italy; the violinist was the Swede Anders Petterson. The next year Peters, the Leipzig publisher, issued the piece in a timorous print-run of 125 copies. It was probably one of those, though, which brought the work to Liszt’s attention, occasioning this letter to Grieg:

I am glad to be able to tell you of the sincere pleasure that I have derived from reading through your Sonata, Op 8. It bears witness to a talent for composition—vigorous, reflective, inventive, and of excellent material—which has only to follow its own way to rise to the heights. I assume that in your own country you receive the success and encouragement you deserve. You will not lack these elsewhere, either: and if you come to Germany this winter, I warmly invite you to visit Weimar for a while, so that we may get to know each other.
(F. Liszt, 29 December [18]68, Rome)

from notes by Martin Anderson © 2006

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