Exploring the Spirals of Gregers Brinch


SPIRALS / BRINCH: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2. Duos for Violins* / Jonathan Truscott, *Gazsi Josef, vln; William Hancox, pno / Claudio Contemporary CC5996-2

I tripped across this CD on the Naxos download site for critics, sampled it, and was hooked. Brinch is a Danish composer who prides himself on writing primarily tonal music that still finds new nuances in harmony and melody that lift it above the “easy listening” style so beloved by many classical aficionados, and this is apparent in the atonal, even brash piano chords that open his violin-piano sonata No. 1 on this CD. This moves into a lovely folk-inspired theme, using upward portamento slides in the violin part while the piano constantly shifts the harmonies underneath. There is a certain Britten-esque quality about this music that I liked very much; Brinch manages to be engaging without being predictable. This is NOT music you are going to hear anytime soon on your local classical music radio station—thank goodness!

And yet his sonata is written and developed along fairly strict classical lines. He avoids the more complex structures that many modern composers like to use and doesn’t engage in cheap effects for their own sake. Even in the slow movement, Grinch continues to use altered chord positions in the piano part and delights in having the violinist play unusual lines above it. At about 3:50 he increases the tempo for the development section, which is equally interesting. In the third movement, Brinch plays with the listener’s expectations by writing what he calls a “Slow Scherzo,” using the form and rhythm of a scherzo but played at an adagio tempo. The last-movement Rondo has the right form but asymmetric rhythm, thus throwing the listener off a bit, and Brinch continues to play cat-and-mouse with the listener throughout the movement. Good stuff!

The second sonata begins with similarly edgy chords from the piano but an entirely different melodic line from the violin; it almost sounds like an alternate version of the same composition, a different draft if you will. But as it turns out, this first movement plays out at a slower pace than the one in the first sonata, and in the second movement Brinch gives us a slow, stuttering theme by the violin, interrupted with stuttering chords from the piano. Once again there is a faster passage within this slow movement at just before the four-minute mark. In this sonata the Scherzo has its normal speed, but the tonality is more ambiguous and the motor rhythms bear some resemblance to jazz.

The violin duets are for the most part quite lovely music, with seven of the 12 pieces being fairly short. The interesting thing here is how many of them end in the middle of nowhere; by using a violin duo, Brinch avoids the bitonal or modal qualities of the violin sonatas. Most of this music could be played on your local classical radio station, though the fourth piece, titled “What is the Deepest Loss That You Have Suffered?,” is a bit less regular in tonality, as is “Balkan Musing” (No. 8).

Yet the two violin sonatas are clearly the centerpieces of this disc, well worth exploring.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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