Marshall McLuhan had it right, after all: the medium really is
the message. On vinyl, this was - and still is - one of my
favorite editions of this program; I enjoyed the CD, too,
but in places it leaves a rather different impression.
Take the beginning of the concerto. The sharper focus afforded by the
digital processing, subtly underscoring the slightly close
perspective given to the soloist, tends to highlight the power
and size of Grumiaux's tone and the incisive thrust of his
attack, rather than his noted tenderness and refinement. It's
a persuasive and musical rendering - it just isn't quite the
same one I remembered. Memory hasn't played me completely
false, though: the central Adagio still melts and yearns
with an often aching beauty, with a lovely hushed start to
the phrases at 0:53 and again at 3.25. And Grumiaux infuses
the Finale's extroverted theme with elegance while maintaining
its forward momentum - nicely done.
The Scottish Fantasy, undeservedly dismissed in some
quarters as a mere showpiece, seems consistently to elicit
its advocates' best musical and expressive instincts. Heifetz
(RCA) gave a glorious rendering in his day, and so does Grumiaux,
in his own way, intoning the lyrical lines gravely with haunted,
searching tone. The Scherzo's main theme (track 6 -
Philips gives this piece five tracks) is buoyant and graceful,
though some of the answering phrases crawl to a standstill.
The highlight of the performance is, as expected, the central
Andante sostenuto, simply phrased and sensitively colored
to evoke a folksong-like nostalgia, expanding fervently as
the writing fills out. Grumiaux quite correctly projects the
Finale theme with square, emphatic accents, drawing
rhythmic variety out of the more elaborate variations.
Unfortunately, the remastering exposes Heinz Wallberg's leadership,
which on vinyl sounded easygoing and well-routined in the
Central European tradition, as distinctly less than that.
Imprecise attacks and approximate ensemble frequently make
for smudgy textures - the orchestration isn't this murky.
And while Wallberg seconds Grumiaux's musical intentions where
he can - note the way the orchestra, at 3:59 of the concerto's
Adagio, emulates the soloist's hushed attack - he's
clunky in purely practical matters. In the concerto's Finale,
for example, the violins don't quite "catch" the
soloist when they join him on the theme (at 2:54,
which is conspicuously late, and 5:01).
Grumiaux's unique insights and inflections are worth hearing, but the
shoddy conducting precludes an outright recommendation even
at mid-price. For those who only want one version of this
once-popular coupling, I'd suggest Chung (Decca), whose tonal
purity and lyrical impulse send both works soaring, and who
gets far better-ordered backup from Kempe and the Royal Philharmonic.
And Heifetz's Fantasy, sufficiently dynamic to galvanize
the normally torpid Sir Malcolm Sargent into alert, decisive
conducting, is of course hors concours. For collectors,
this Eloquence issue will prove a valuable, even endearing