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.
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.
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.