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Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Berg: Violin Concertos / Grumiaux

Tchaikovsky / Grumiaux / Co / Markevitch
Release Date: 03/16/2010 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4800481   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Peter Ilyich TchaikovskyIgor StravinskyAlban Berg
Performer:  Arthur Grumiaux
Conductor:  Bogo LeskovichErnest BourIgor Markevitch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Symphony OrchestraRoyal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto 1. STRAVINSKY Violin Concerto 2. BERG Violin Concerto 3. Arthur Grumiaux (vn); 1 Bogo Leskovic, 2 Ernest Bour, 3 Igor Markevitch, cond; 1 Read more class="ARIAL12">Vienna SO; 2,3 Amsterdam Concertgebouw O DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 0481, mono1/analog (78:55)

Arthur Grumiaux recorded Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto for Philips three times: in October and November 1956 with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra; in May 1960 with Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra; and in September 1975 with Krenz and the New Philharmonia. He recorded Stravinsky’s and Berg’s concertos only once each in the studio.

The engineers for Grumiaux’s first recording of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto placed their soloist very close up (as Columbia did with Stern, Oistrakh, and, to some extent, Francescatti) and the recorded sound, reverberant and somewhat tubby, sounds a bit dated. But for those who identify the classically pure Grumiaux with the recordings he made of Bach’s solo sonatas and partitas (as well as the ones for violin and keyboard) and Mozart’s violin concertos and sonatas, his virtuosic manner in Tchaikovsky’s blockbuster should come as a bracing, though pleasant, surprise (even if his recordings of Vieuxtemps’s Fourth and Fifth concertos should have telegraphed his punch). Listen to his authoritative and highly identifiable style as it emerges in the cadenza (without Auer’s enhanced runs in thirds) and his warmth in the lyrical passages. Yet the technical refinement of this performance doesn’t serve as its focus, casting a chilling pall over the musical communication. In the slow movement, Grumiaux resorts only very occasionally to a portamento to enhance the expressive effect, and then only a very discreet one. In this aspect of his playing, he lives up to his reputation for nobly elevated musical taste; but within those constraints, he achieves a rhetorical urgency that few surpassed. His manner in the finale may be technically dazzling, but some of the impact of the declamatory second theme may be lost on account of his closeness to the microphone. Still, with all the reverberation and imbalance (some may just enjoy listening to Grumiaux up close), it’s hard not to be caught up and conclude that, if the concerto is Heifetz’s and Oistrakh’s in a special way, it’s also his, bearing the unmistakable stamp of his personality.

An earlier, live, reading by Grumiaux of Stravinsky’s concerto, from the 1950s with Ferenc Fricsay and the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra (similar in conception but, as a live performance, captured in recorded sound that lacks Decca’s clarity and definition), appeared on an Italian limited edition (Originals SH-818) in 1994. This reading comes from December 19–21, 1966. I remember that Stern’s mellifluous recording with the composer conducting, from 1961, met with some critical resistance and an unfavorable comparison with Francescatti’s (presumably tarter and spikier) live performances (Francescatti didn’t go on to record the work). Grumiaux generally lies on Francescatti’s sweeter side. Although Stravinsky may have worked through Samuel Dushkin’s suggestions about the concerto’s solo part very thoroughly, it’s hard not to play through the piece without being impressed by its idiomatic writing (all those angular gestures seem to lie so very well). Grumiaux’s classical side keeps him cool though edgy in the first movement. In the Aria I, he balances sharpness and motoric drive in the middle section with the opening’s and ending’s lyricism. Aria II presents opportunities to mine a richer vein, and Grumiaux even introduces a noisy portamento here and there (in ironic parody?). He makes a strong effect in the concluding Capriccio without resorting to extreme abrasiveness, though the ending rhythmic tour de force doesn’t have the same bracing effect in this performance as it makes in, say, Kyung Wha Chung’s. The balanced recorded sound represents an improvement in both texture and clarity over the earlier engineering in Tchaikovsky’s concerto, capturing not only Grumiaux’s sound but also the composer’s bright orchestral colors as refracted by the orchestra.

Berg’s concerto, which Grumiaux recorded with Igor Markevitch and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, may be expressionistically romantic, but Grumiaux nevertheless makes of himself an almost ideal interpreter, cast in the mold of fellow Belgian André Gertler. But Philips in 1967 went way beyond EMI’s earlier recorded sound, lending thick textures a clarity that reveals the meandering violin part drawing associations from the serial textures over which it floats. And individual effects gain direction from that clarity. For example, the biting woodwind timbres inject an almost disturbing sense of menace into the Carpathian Ländler in the concerto’s first movement (second half). The “catastrophe” movement’s opening chords have the impact of a stun gun, and Grumiaux spans the agony of the movement’s most violent moments and the idyllic reflective interlude so effectively as to make the struggle’s climax sound almost anticlimactic. And both Markevitch and the soloist balance the final section’s dark and glowing elements, suggesting a subtle tension between transcendence and triumph. At the same time, Grumiaux’s instrumental mastery makes the work sound like a violinist’s concerto rather than a piece of programmatic musical portraiture.

It may be no surprise that Grumiaux’s performances of these concertos stand among the best ever recorded, and they may be a revelation to those who haven’t heard them. And this isn’t even Grumiaux’s core repertoire. Urgently recommended as a testament to one of the 20th century’s best violinists.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 35 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performer:  Arthur Grumiaux (Violin)
Conductor:  Bogo Leskovich
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878; Russia 
Concerto for Violin in D major by Igor Stravinsky
Performer:  Arthur Grumiaux (Violin)
Conductor:  Ernest Bour
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931; France 
Concerto for Violin by Alban Berg
Performer:  Arthur Grumiaux (Violin)
Conductor:  Igor Markevitch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; Austria 

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