The Art of Arthur Grumiaux

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THE ART OF ARTHUR GRUMIAUX Arthur Grumiaux (vn); Frieder Weissmann 1 , Lorin Maazel 2 , Hans Müller-Kray 3 , Bernhard Paumgartner 4 , Carlo Maria Giulini 6 , Ernest Ansermet 8 , Ernest Bour 10 , cond; Riccardo Castagnone 5 , Hans Altmann 7 (pn); Hermann von Beckerath (vc); 9 RAI SO of Turin; 1 Cologne RSO; 2 South German RSO; 3 Mozarteum O; 4 Frankfurt RSO; 6 O de la Suisse Romande; 8 Bavarian RSO 10 ANDROMEDA 9116, mono (4 CDs: 266:57) Live: Turin, Cologne, Mühlacker, Salzburg, Frankfurt, Munich 1951–62

MOZART 1 Violin Concerto No. 1 2 Violin Concerto No. 3. 3 Violin Concerto No. 4. 4 Violin Concerto No. 5. MENDELSSOHN 6 Violin Concerto in e. SCHUBERT 5 Violin Sonata in A. FRANCK 7 Violin Sonata in A. BRAHMS 8 Violin Concerto. CHAUSSON 1 Poème for Violin and Orchestra. RAVEL 9 Sonata for Violin and Cello. 1 Tzigane. STRAVINSKY 10 Violin Concerto. YSAŸE Sonata for Violin Solo, Ballade in d

Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux (1921–1986) was a fixture of the concert and recording scene when I was growing up. His playing was impeccably clean in style, utilizing a very narrow vibrato that gave his tone a lean yet shimmering sound, very little portamento, and enlivening inflections that provided a nice rhythmic “lift” to his performances. As this set clearly shows, his proclivities were, for the most part, towards Classical and Romantic composers, though he did play the Stravinsky and Berg concertos and Ravel sonata. According to Wikipedia, he made roughly 30 albums during his active career, mostly for the Dutch Philips label but also for EMI. He was, it seems, one of those violinists, like Nathan Milstein, who was admired as much if not more by his peers than by the general public, though of course he was always a top draw in concerts.

Since Grumiaux played most of these works so often (particularly the Mozart concertos, which he recorded complete for Philips with Colin Davis in 1961–62), there are several alternate performances of many of these pieces floating around; e.g., the Mozart No. 1 with Paumgartner and Nos. 3 and 4 with Moralt (the Concerto No. 5 with Paumgartner is on this set), the Mendelssohn Concerto with a very young Haitink, the Brahms with van Beinum, etc. The cover of this set announces that these live performances are all newly remastered in 24-bit/96 kHz sound.

I was particularly fascinated by his interpretation of the Schubert sonata: crisp, direct, and completely lacking in sentimentality, much like Toscanini’s performances of the Schubert symphonies. This is a performance that will thrill musically scrupulous listeners but not at all those who insist that their Schubert be full of Viennese schmaltz. Grumiaux’s version of the Mendelssohn Concerto is quite excellent as well, with surprisingly brisk conducting by Giulini; nothing is rushed, all the notes “sound” with perfect equipoise, yet there is tremendous élan in this reading (and sensitivity, too, relaxing the tempo here and there and playing an absolutely ethereal first-movement cadenza). Because he was Belgian, Grumiaux was sometimes compared to his great predecessor Ysaÿe, but to my ears his sweet, lean tone had much more in common with Sarasate than with Ysaÿe’s somewhat darker sound. As a matter of fact, I felt that Grumiaux’s lean sonority and objectivist approach didn’t work for me in the Franck Sonata or Brahms Concerto, the only performances on the set that I found too uninvolved. I was, however, fascinated by the way he played Ravel, which (as it turns out) was much like his Stravinsky: lean, angular contours, no sentimentality at all, and a way of bringing out the structure without unduly overstressing it. Indeed, the entire last CD was a gem from start to finish.

Your proclivity to acquire this set will probably have as much to do with your desire to own every note Grumiaux ever recorded if you already have most of the studio versions, especially since we are dealing here with monophonic radio sound of varying quality (rather dry in the Turin broadcasts, somewhat roomier and warmer in the German airchecks), particularly since this set is selling for the somewhat hefty price of $52 on Amazon. However, I can attest that Andromeda did a whale of a job cleaning up the sound so that everything sounds clear without the least bit of distortion, particularly in the sound of the string sections of each orchestra, and there is no question that Grumiaux is interesting to hear from start to finish.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: ANDRCD9116

  • UPC: 3830257491163

  • Label: Andromeda

  • Composer: César Franck, Ernest Chausson, Eugène Ysaÿe, Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Schubert, Igor Stravinsky, Johannes Brahms, Maurice Ravel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

  • Conductor: Bernhard Paumgartner, Carlo Maria Giulini, Ernest Ansermet, Ernest Bour, Frieder Weissmann, Hans Müller-Kray, Lorin Maazel

  • Performer: Arthur Grumiaux, Hans Altmann, Hermann von Beckerath, Riccardo Castagnone