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Grieg • Vaughan Williams: Violin Sonatas etc

Charlie Siem (violin), Itamar Golan (piano) (Signum Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Grieg • Vaughan Williams
Vaughan Williams: Violin Sonata in A minor; Grieg: Violin Sonata No. 2; Peer Gynt –Solveig’s Song (arr. Siem)
Charlie Siem (violin), Itamar Golan (piano)
Signum Classics SIGCD 734    51:53 mins


Written in 1952 when Vaughan Williams turned 80, the Violin Sonata was his last completed piece of chamber music. Its opening ‘Fantasia’ movement is tricky to pin down temperamentally, but English violinist Charlie Siem rightly keeps the tempo edging forward, mixing rhapsodic tone with a sense of fresh, sometimes unsettling discovery.

Both Siem and pianist Itamar Golan wisely avoid over-reacting to the Allegro furioso marking in the central Scherzo, allowing the rumbling rhythms in the piano part to grip properly, and the angular detail of Siem’s violin to emerge incisively. Golan’s octave chords launching the Theme and Variations finale are compellingly sepulchral, and the duo’s excellent tempo choices add shape and cogency to the 13-minute movement. The violin’s trilling mini-cadenza at the end superficially recalls The Lark Ascending. Siem doesn’t wallow in nostalgia, however – the Violin Sonata’s world is altogether shadier, and he knows it.

Grieg’s Violin Sonata No. 2 is a more frequently recorded work, but Siem and Golan again compete strongly. The slow introduction to the opening movement is atmospherically contrasted with the lively dance episodes which follow, Siem in particular relishing the sap and spring of Grieg’s violin writing. The central Allegretto tranquillo deftly balances a gentle nostalgia with spurts of zesty temperament, while the finale sparkles with the influence of Norwegian folk dance. Siem’s moody transcription of ‘Solveig’s Song’ from Peer Gynt rounds off a stimulating recital.


Terry Blain