Aristocratic Playing in Spectacular Sound
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 07/02/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Interestingly, Pentatone chooses in their booklet notes for this release to speak at length about the process by which these 1970s quadraphonic (four-channel) recordings were transferred to the new SACD format, thus restoring and improving upon the original multichannel sound. And they say not one single word about the soloist in these performances, the great Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux (1921-1986), or the accompanying orchestra (New Philharmonic [Tchaikovsky] under Jan Krenz, [Bruch] under Heinz Wallberg). That's a shame. Their choice seems to imply that the important thing here is the recording technology, not the music itself. And important as the technology is, it's the music that counts. And what performances these are. Grumiaux was a musician's violinist, not a fiery virtuoso showoff. His performances were notable for their fidelity to the composer's intentions, put forward with classical elegance, purity, strength coupled with élan. He was an aristocrat of the violin. The Tchaikovsky concerto is played with subtlety and even a modicum of restraint, a welcome antidote to the rock-'em-sock-'em style so often heard in this concerto. His performance of the 'Sérénade Mélancolique' is so soulful as to be almost unbearable in its melancholy.
There is one recording of the Bruch 'Scottish Fantasy' that stands above the rest in its purity and fire -- that of Jascha Heifetz. Not far below that are the recordings of Michael Rabin and David Oistrakh. But this performance by Grumiaux can certainly stand among that group without tugging its forelock. This is an elegant and soulful performance that also catches the excitement of the dramatic finale (Allegro guerriero -- has any other composer ever used that adjective to describe a movement?). The orchestral accompaniments are perhaps just one small notch below the most accomplished recorded versions, but they too are played beautifully, with flexibility and conviction. There are some really quite lovely solo and ensemble wind passages, as well as rich, satiny strings providing a cushion for the violin soloist.
The main reason, I suppose, for buying this issue is the refurbished sound, available now as it was meant to be. But these are also treasurable performances, the only thing, after all, that can make this issue worthwhile.