I had been greatly looking forward to hearing the Russian violinist Ilya Gringolts at the Wigmore Hall lunchtime recital. A former BBC New Generation Artist, as was his pianist Ashley Wass, I considered him a major talent back then, but hadn’t heard his performance for a while. Happily, he did not disappoint.

Tomasz Trzebiatowski
Tomasz Trzebiatowski

If the programme of violin sonatas by Grieg and Schumann seemed to suggest an intimacy of expression, in fact Gringolts’ interpretation was surprisingly extrovert and dynamic. His sweet and warm tone suited the youthful ardour of Grieg’s first sonata and he shaped the melodies elegantly, although there were times when he dug into the strings too forcefully especially in the forte sections. This may be a part of his expressive palette and may not be a problem in a larger venue, but it sounded unnecessarily aggressive in the Wigmore Hall acoustics. Meanwhile the pianist Ashley Wass played with thoughtfulness and sensitivity throughout: often when the musical idea would begin in the piano part, he set the tone and atmosphere well. Overall, they gave the work a lot of character and charm, especially in the slow movement with its folk-inspired middle section.

After the youthful naivety of Grieg’s sonata, Schumann’s turbulent D minor violin sonata composed late in his life came as a bit of a shock. Gringolts and Wass gave gravity to the opening motif which underlines the whole first movement, and thereafter the ebb and flow of the emotions were perfectly judged. Gringolts seemed to be at ease with the schizophrenic mood-swings of Schumann’s music and in the second movement Scherzo (which obviously influenced Brahms in his Scherzo in the F.A.E. Sonata composed only two years later), he switched effortlessly between the lively and rhythmic Scherzo section and the contrasting lyrical episodes. The duo created a wonderful sense of serenity in the third movement - based on a Bach chorale - and a palpable silence hung in the air after its magical ending. The finale was performed at a vigorous pace with the violin in the driving seat, but Wass’s playing was texturally clear and confident, and together they brought the work to an emphatic conclusion.

The performance was received rapturously and as an encore they offered the second of Schumann’s Three Romances which again brought Gringolts’ tonal beauty to the fore.

(Available to Listen Again on BBC Radio 3 website for seven days)