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Beethoven: Violin Concerto, Symphony No 2 / Grumiaux, Beinum

Beethoven / Grumiaux / Rco / Van Beinum
Release Date: 03/06/2009 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4800428  
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Arthur Grumiaux
Conductor:  Eduard van Beinum
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto. Symphony No. 2 Eduard van Beinum, cond; Arthur Grumiaux (vn); Concertgebouw O DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 0428, mono (76:20)

Arthur Grumiaux recorded Beethoven’s Violin Concerto three times: on June 4, 1957, with van Beinum and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, a monaural recording released here as Epic LC-3420; just about nine years later, July 3–5, 1966, in stereo, with Galliera and the New Philharmonia Orchestra; and again, January 7–9, 1974, in stereo, with Davis and the Concertgebouw Read more Orchestra for Philips. The earliest of the three versions showcases Grumiaux’s smooth elegance; and, while the performance has perhaps been denigrated as “serene,” that serenity repeatedly flashes a keen edge. The engineers caught Grumiaux close up (he’s almost under your ear in Kreisler’s cadenza), with the Orchestra relegated acoustically nearly to the role of accompaniment, though at times the recorded sound unleashes its power.

The partnership with van Beinum reveals detail in the first movement that helps generate momentum, and conductor and soloist forge an interchange of almost chamber-music-like intimacy. That intimacy extends into their affecting reading of the slow movement, which never relies on timbral effects, as Anne-Sophie Mutter’s did, or descends into bathos. Grumiaux sounds magisterial (and the Orchestra, incisive) in the finale, here a stomping dance of Olympian weight. Grumiaux’s conception of the work stands in stark contrast to Heifetz’s more Viotti-like readings, particularly with Munch from two years earlier. By the time of his last reading, Grumiaux hadn’t slowed down his performance (each of the movements with Davis in 1974 lasts only a few seconds more or less that the corresponding ones with van Beinum), yet the earlier reading should strike many listeners as somehow more vibrant and even perhaps more propulsive.

If Beethoven still reflected the influence of Haydn at the time of his Second Symphony, he clearly spoke his own language and guffawed in his own gruffer voice. Van Beinum’s monaural recording from May 1954 (originally released here on Epic LC-3466) may not possess Toscanini’s drive, but it’s sufficiently kinetic (if only just so) to deflect the charge of academicism that’s been leveled against it. And even if the first movement’s development section seems to flag, that seeming lethargy arises as much from the somewhat raw and thinly stretched engineering ambiance as from any lack of dynamism in the performance itself. Perhaps the sense of thinness created by this performance in the slow movement that often looks neither to the left nor to the right served as the target for contemporary critics of the recording’s release. Still, the climaxes develop considerable power. So do those of the Scherzo, though after a main section that many might consider fussy rather than straightforward. The Finale sounds lean and maybe even mean.

Decca’s issue will perhaps appeal most strongly to those who admire Grumiaux’s magnificent violin-playing, especially his high-minded yet brilliant reading of Beethoven’s Concerto from this relatively early period. For them, the even earlier reading of the Symphony may be little more than a makeweight. Strongly recommended, nevertheless, to general listeners as well.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 36 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Eduard van Beinum
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1801-1802; Vienna, Austria 
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 61 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Arthur Grumiaux (Violin)
Conductor:  Eduard van Beinum
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria 

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