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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major Op.61 (1806) [42.13]
Giovanni Battista VIOTTI (1755-1824)
Violin Concerto No.22 in A minor (c.1790s) [27.44]
Arthur Grumiaux (violin)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Alceo Galliera (Beethoven, recorded in London, 1966)
Concertgebouw/Edo de Waart (Viotti, recorded in Amsterdam, 1970)
PHILIPS ELOQUENCE 476 8477 [70.04]

 

By coincidence I was watching the DVD featuring an early 1960s Paris performance Grumiaux gave with Manuel Rosenthal of the Beethoven Concerto. His poise and relative immobility will come as little surprise even to those who, like me, never saw him in the flesh. That he played mostly with his eyes shut was more unusual. But he was perfectly balanced with regard to leg position, if not quite Kogan-like in perfection of posture, and made no extraneous gestures, either physical or facial.

His Concerto performance was impressive though constrained by the inevitable aural limitations of the format. In this later 1966 LP recording he was partnered by the New Philharmonia under Alceo Galliera and isn’t to be confused with the early 1970s recording with the Concertgebouw and Colin Davis – Grumiaux of course made multiple recordings of the Concerto.

Galliera manages to infuse some real metrical tension into the opening orchestral introduction, one that Grumiaux enhances. His trill is of electric velocity, the vibrato perfectly controlled, the gestures classical and pellucid, the phrasing of rapt naturalness. There are no emotive finger position changes that call attention to themselves; everything is directed inward, including the powerful orchestral pianissimo de Waart prepares for Grumiaux throughout the first movement. Refinement and lyricism are the watchwords of the slow movement and the finale, whilst never an adrenalin producer, ratchets enough of its own rhythmic drama to stimulate, educate and enliven. This is playing of elevation and finesse.

The companion concerto is a rather unlikely one from the perspective of a professional player – the college standby of Viotti’s A minor [No.22]. This is a work that most players have essayed at some stage though few elite players have committed it to disc, though Menuhin did, and so did Accardo, De Vito, Morini, David Oistrakh and Stern some have been recorded in concert or privately such as the superb Shumsky piano-accompanied version on Biddulph and a live Kreisler torso. This is a charmer of a performance, long on Gallant charm and garnished with some silkily elegant work in the genial slow movement, and some dashing passagework throughout. Is that a passing passage of poor intonation at 5.55 in the first movement? Never mind.

The Viotti was originally coupled on LP with the then relatively newly rediscovered concerto by Michael Haydn and though it’s not the most obvious bedfellow for the Beethoven it’s not been re-issued for a good while and I prefer it to yet another re-issue of the two Romances.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 



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