FRANCK; GRIEG; LISZT Violin Sonatas, Elegies
If you’ve ever played a musical version of Six Degrees of Separation, you’ll quickly have realised that there aren’t many 19th-century composers or performers who aren’t linked in some way to Franz Liszt. Liszt commended the young César Franck and, two decades later, endorsed Grieg’s First Violin Sonata in glowing terms: ‘a strong, imaginative, creative, inventive and admirable talent’.
So it’s a nice idea of the German sisters Lea and Esther Birringer to make Liszt’s Two Elegies for violin and piano the centrepiece of this recital, and the link between the worlds of Grieg and Franck. The Liszt pieces are not exactly over-recorded, and the pair approach them with style and the full-blooded commitment they bring to the entire disc. They sound like instinctive, physical players, and they’re very evidently on the same wavelength as regards the music’s ebb and flow. There’s a winning freshness about the way they tackle the Grieg in particular, bending into the sweep of a melody. Violinist Lea has an enjoyably springy way with a dance rhythm.
It’s fair to say though, that Lea’s playing, with a wide vibrato but a slightly wiry tone, sounds more beautiful on lower than higher notes, and her intonation occasionally distorts under pressure. Esther, on piano, more than matches the volatility of her sister’s playing; but while they’re capable of generating a richly poetic atmosphere in quieter passages (such as the opening exchange of the Franck), their emphatic manner can sometimes weigh the music down: the outer movements of the Franck feel heavy. And the recorded sound – which places the piano at some distance, with a noticeable loss in clarity – doesn’t really do any favours to these characterful, if idiosyncratic, artists.