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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 (1879) [38:11]*
Academic Festival Orchestra (1879) [10:00]
Tragic Overture (1880) [14:20]
Rhapsody for alto, chorus and orchestra, Op. 53 (1869) [12:51]^
Arthur Grumiaux (violin)*; Aafje Heynis (contralto)^
Royal Male Choir 'Apollo'^
Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam/Eduard van Beinum
rec. February 1958 (Alto Rhapsody); July 1958 (Violin Concerto); September 1958 (Overtures); Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. ADD
PHILIPS ELOQUENCE 4429788 [75:49] 

 


Australian Eloquence has of late released a number of discs featuring the art of Arthur Grumiaux. The Belgian violinist's fans would have been disappointed at the omission of this recording of the Brahms from Universal's box of Grumiaux's Philips recordings from the period 1955-1978 (Philips 475 7825). This disc is a must-have for them, and also for all Brahmsians. 

Simply put, Grumiaux's 1958 recording of the Brahms concerto is superb. Unusually for this most classically refined of violinists, it is also surprisingly passionate. The qualities that one associates most with Grumiaux – the faultless technique, stylish phrasing and sweet tone – are all here. His double stopping is peerless – just listen to his bold, almost martial first entry in the first movement. Added to these qualities, though, is a wonderful romantic sweep. The first movement's cadenza – Joachim's – is captivating in its sense of rhapsody. Grumiaux teases out the themes of the first movement and the beauty of the central adagio with obvious affection and revels in the dancing finale, but he projects powerfully in the climaxes.

It helps that there is an obvious sympathy between the Grumiaux and van Beinum. The Dutch conductor leads the Concertgebouw in a virile accompaniment, which nonetheless reveals the beauty of Brahms' score, with some gorgeous playing from the Concertgebouw winds in the adagio in particular. Tempi tend to be swift, but this only adds to the romantic sweep of the performance. Only in the adagio did I wish that van Beinum and his soloist would linger more. 

For me, this is an account to place beside the classic Oistrakh recordings that date from the same era – not as serious-minded as the recording with Klemperer on EMI Encore or as free as the mono recording with Konwitschny on Deutsche Grammophon, but surprisingly similar in feel to Oistrakh's live recording with Kondrashin. It shows the Belgian master to be a match for his great Russian contemporary, and no praise can be higher than that. 

The fillers are well chosen and continue to showcase van Beinum's qualities as a conductor in general, and as an interpreter of Brahms in particular. His performances of both overtures are warm but muscular, and he draws characterful playing from his excellent orchestra. The exuberant conclusion to the Academic Festival Overture, with van Beinum pushing the tempo, is great fun. The Tragic Overture is all the more dramatic for its initial rhetorical restraint and the orchestra's razor-sharp articulation. Nobody does it better. 

The final piece in the programme, van Beinum's recording of the Alto Rhapsody with Aafje Heynis, will catch many a collector's interest. And so it should. Heynis' singing is light and free, as is van Beinum's support, making this recording very much the antithesis of the classic Christa Ludwig/Otto Klemperer account on EMI. If you find Ludwig and Klemperer too dark and dour, then Heynis and van Beinum, with their greater delicacy and tendency to rapture, are for you. 

The analogue sound is warm and clear, with a little crowding in the climaxes. Only in the Alto Rhapsody do the sonics really show their age to any greater extent, with less bloom and a flatter sound perspective reminding you that, yes, this recording is half a century old. It does not detract from the quality of the performance, though. 

With an hour and a quarter of excellent music-making, intelligently coupled and priced at the bottom of the market, how can you possibly pass this up?

Tim Perry

 

 


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