Violin Sonatas & Pieces
‘They speak the language of these composers effortlessly and naturally.’ So says the booklet-note of Latvian sisters Lauma and Baiba Skride, presenting as evidence their ‘sharing of a common sea’ with the Finnish, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish composers in question. Textbook PR guff: Norway has no Baltic Sea coastline and, as we heard from Baiba’s recent recording of the Nielsen Concerto (9/15), she doesn’t speak the Dane’s spiky language naturally enough.
But her Sibelius, on the same record, was something special. She is a player of rare intelligence and individuality, and so is her sister, who opens proceedings with a magical placing of the chords that introduce Grieg’s Second Sonata. Lauma makes this performance, marrying elfin dexterity with fresh air to which her sister responds with delicacy, a fullness of tone even at low volumes and that sense of innocence so central to the piece.
Baiba has never had the fullest lower register but she brings depth and darkness to Sibelius’s seemingly innocent ‘Impromptu’ from the Op 78 set, while in the ‘Romance’ we hear that sweetness and clarity that marks her out. There’s more of it in the first movement of Stenhammar’s only violin sonata: laser-like precision but heartfelt poise right at the top of the register. It’s a pleasant piece but the least distinctive on the disc.
And Nielsen’s Second Sonata? The playing is just as cultivated and beautiful; but, as with the concerto recording, that’s the problem. We should hear the seeds of inter-instrument sabotage being sown right from the violin’s opening reptilian slither. That develops into overt antagonism but rarely do the sisters audibly attempt to trip each other up or overtly flounce off on different paths; so often, their playing is just too refined, whimsical even. It’s the diligent respect of cultural Lutheranism – not any stretch of water – that I feel makes these Latvians play Sibelius and Grieg with such sensitivity but which continues to curtail Baiba’s Nielsen.