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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-91)
Violin Concertos - No. 1 in B flat, K207; No. 2 in D, K211; No. 3 in G, K216; No. 4 in D, K218; No. 5 in A, K219.
Violin Sonatas - B flat, K454; A, K526.

Artur Grumiaux (violin); Clara Haskil (piano); London Symphony Orchestra/Colin Davis.
Recorded 1956-1964 [ADD]
PHILIPS 50 Great Recordings 464 722-2 [two discs] [153.26] Midprice

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These recordings act as testament to a musician whose Mozart bursts with joy and life. Grumiaux's tone is sweet and his phrasing remarkably sensitive and perceptive. It might seem odd to begin a review by discussing what appear to be the set's 'fillers' (i.e. the Sonata recordings with Haskil), but there is no denying that these fresh accounts are the highlight of this set. Recorded in January 1956 (originally issued on ABL3141), these accounts represent a meeting of like minds. Haskil, like Grumiaux, was known for her innate musicality, and this is much in evidence here. Although she lightens her tone (towards the forte-piano in intent), she maintains a singing legato in the slow movements. The players seem as one, not only in the (definitely) Presto finale of K526, but also in their reactions to each other in the slow movements. It comes as no surprise that the pared down textures of the Andante of K454, which can appear too stark, here are powerfully emotive.

The main part of the set (in terms of sheer time, of course), is taken up by the five concertos. Frequently seen as the poor relations of the piano concertos, these pieces (all completed before December 1775) do benefit from an approach of conviction such as Grumiaux brings. The accompaniments are perhaps the stumbling block. They are very much of their time, sounding over-blown, with a blurred bass. Robust might seem the most apt (kindest?) description here, and there is a marked disjunction (a definite added heaviness) if one listens to the Sonatas first. Despite some lovely individual contributions, most notably some most affecting oboe playing in the first movement of the third concerto, the orchestra seems shamed by Grumiaux's obvious dedication to these works. This is most starkly heard in the fifth concerto, where Mozart's compositional security is now total, the sunny key of A major is out and Grumiaux radiates joy. However, Davis' sluggishness serves to undermine this (am I imagining the LSO trying to join in the spirit of the thing, being hampered by their conductor?).

Grumiaux gives the first two concertos their full due, bringing many fine gradations of tone to the Andante of the Second and revealing real depth in the Adagio of the First. A real test in concertos of this period is always the cadenzas (just how far will your attention wander?). Temporarily unaccompanied and free to express himself, Grumiaux's imagination flies free and the results are consistently fascinating, whether the cadenzas are by Grumiaux himself or, indeed, by Ysaÿe (as is the case in K216).

Recommended primarily for the Sonatas, therefore. The Concertos are definitely worth hearing, mainly for Grumiaux's many insights: set, unfortunately, against a generally grey background.

Colin Clarke

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