The Grumiaux-Haskil duo lasted for over a decade and
committed a sizable chunk of its repertoire to disc. That it was a necessarily
circumscribed repertoire – Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert in the main
– was a matter of collective choice and whilst we can regret that they
were not more adventurous (I’ve always rather wanted to hear them essay
the Third Enescu Sonata for instance) we can still rejoice that so much
was recorded and that live performances such as this one have survived.
This was in fact previously available on the Ermitage label and documents
a recital given in Ascona during the year of Haskil’s death, 1960.
Grumiaux was a patrician artist if ever there was one
though the refinement of his tonal qualities is chartable and demonstrable
in a series of more fiery American recordings from the early 1950s.
These poised and elegant performances merely reinforce the impression
gained from the recorded legacy. The Beethoven A Major sonata was taped
for Philips with Haskil and also Claudio Arrau whilst the final Sonata,
the G Major, saw a commercial recording only with her – though broadcasts
have survived of this Ascona performance and an earlier one in September
1957 from the Besancon Festival (once available on Melodram and Recital
Records). The Mozart Sonata was a favourite of Grumiaux’s. He recorded
it for Philips with Haskil and again in 1982 with Walter Klien, four
years before Grumiaux’s premature death.
So these are well-charted waters and enough documentary
evidence exists to sustain the argument that the violinist was one of
the most lucid interpreters of the classical violin repertoire in the
second half of the twentieth century. The big G Major Sonata was, as
with all items here, rather distantly recorded and there are coughs
aplenty in the bronchial autumn Ascona audience. Grumiaux’s tone is
only imperfectly caught here. There’s an occasionally uncharacteristic
astringency to it as well – but we can still appreciate the stately
elegance and deliberation of his and Haskil’s playing. In the slow movement,
whilst she is not unfeeling, she still emerges as rather severe. By
contrast the subtlety of Grumiaux’s vibrato variance is clearly audible
even in these circumstances, his slight rubati and tonal colouration
as ever-treasurable features of his playing. He is likewise full of
a coursing nobility even if lacking the last ounce of plangency. The
finale is animated by a lovely sense of elasticity with rubati effortlessly
embedded into the syntax of the score. The earlier A Major sonata reveals
equal qualities if sharing a less than flattering aural perspective.
Haskil employs a non-legato approach to the slow movement, which imparts
a rather restless animation to it. Use of the dampening pedal also adds
its own patina of abruptness with clipped phrase endings. Grumiaux’s
songful legato in the Allegro molto is contrastive and delightful. In
the Mozart sonata the duo are on terra firma again; buoyant, full of
classical elegance but romantic sensibility. They neither affect to
mine too much nor skate too glassily over the surface of the music.
Again the performance can’t be ideally recommended – too many coughs,
too recessed a recording, too unflattering an edge on the violinist’s
tone, but admirers of the duo won’t be unduly bothered by these distractions.
To catch the Grumiaux-Haskil duo on the wing is prize itself.
Booklet notes are by Piero Rattalino once more and
are far more circumspect, biographical and level-headed than his notes
for a Milstein release in this series though I do wish writers would
rid themselves of the notion that the only functioning violin-piano
duo in the whole of pre-War Europe was the Busch-Serkin. Otherwise rather
more of a release for admirers than the casual listener but admirers
will know that this duo was one of the stellar exponents of the repertoire.