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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Arthur Grumiaux. The Boston Recordings
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Partita No. 2 in D minor BWV 1004 – Chaconne (1720)
Pietro FIOCCO (c1650-1714)

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1759-1791)

Violin Sonata in G K301 [293a] (1778)
Violin Sonata in E minor K304 [300c] (1778)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Violin Sonata in G minor (1916-17)
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)

Six Romanian Dances (1915) arr. Zoltan Székeley
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Pièce en forme de Habañera (1907-08)
Tzigane (1924)
Arthur Grumiaux (violin)
Gregory Tucker (piano) in Bach, Fiocco and Mozart
Paul Ulanowsky (piano) in remainder
Recorded 1951-52
PARNASSUS PACD 96028 [67.40]


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These are amongst Grumiaux’s least well-documented recordings and are fully deserving of their return to the catalogue in Parnassus’ splendid restoration. They coincided with his first American tour, which began in the 1951-52 season and proved successful though in later years Grumiaux preferred to cut back on touring commitments. He was approaching thirty and had already made a number of recordings, not least some for Columbia in London (Leslie Gerber errs slightly in his belief that they were made for French Columbia; they were amongst the Philharmonia’s earliest recordings and the Bach Double with the distinguished British violinist Jean Pougnet is especially attractive). The recordings here derive from two Boston LPs and contain principally canonical Grumiaux repertoire, works that would appear again in his discography.

Thus for example the disc starts with the Bach Chaconne. This is a slightly slower performance than his 1961 traversal of the complete Sonatas and Partitas made for Philips, with whom he had so congenial and fruitful a relationship. But the tone itself is, a decade earlier, more intense and coiled, and the chordal phrasing of sonorous and leonine power. That he should be so commanding a Bach player should come as no surprise – his teachers, Alfred Dubois and Enescu, were amongst the leading Bachians of their own generation. In the Boston performance one can also note the subtly increased bow pressure he applies vis a vis the later recording, the sense also of greater romantic expressivity. He was always taken by Fiocco’s little Allegro, an agreeable piece of baroquerie so beloved of fiddlers, and recorded it later for Philips. This earlier performance is slightly less elegant, less floated, more obviously romantic with, once again, Grumiaux digging that bit harder into the string than he was later to do. I prefer the later Philips recording; it has a strong but patrician charm but this earlier one has real presence and strength (and my favourite of all recordings of it is an acoustic 78 by the then leader of the London String Quartet, Jimmy Levey, who catches its quirks to a T). His Mozart was and remains wonderful; some, I know, find it rather blithe and uncolourful but the sheer ease, naturalness and affection of the Allegro con spirito of the Sonata in G K301 is treasurable (George Tucker the alert pianist), the flexibility of his diminuendos a sign of a superior intellect and tonalist at work. In the other essayed Sonata, the E minor, K304, the elasticity of his line in the Tempo di minuetto, its absolute sustenance, and the expressive sensitivity of his shaping corroborates the views of those who hold up his Mozart as model playing. If only the edits here hadn’t been so poor – but they were, I suppose, inherent in the master copy.

The Debussy Sonata in G was always one of his most cogent and expressive calling cards. The consistent subtlety of his playing of the Franco-Belgian repertoire was for a generation a cut above most of his contemporaries. He was to re-record the Debussy for Philips with the excellent Riccardo Castagnone four years later. For the Boston LP with Paul Ulanowsky, himself a pianist of distinction and an accompanist to the finest, Grumiaux is slightly but consistently faster than he was to become. But no breathlessness is imparted, no sense of rhythmic inflexibility, no hint of phrasal insensitivity. His vibrato is immaculately controlled here, its usage incrementally increased dependent on the expressive potential inherent in the music. Ulanowsky proves a fine and notably sensitive partner.

The Bartók is a discographic first-and-only. He never returned to it so Grumiaux lovers will want to hear it and they will hear a persuasively biting performance, full of temperament and lavish intensity, though one always constrained by observance of correct vibrato usage. Tzigane is shorn of the opening cadenza but we can still appreciate his swagger – he was not at all, then or subsequently, incapable of Slavic bite as is quite evident here.

This is an admirable release that reprints the original Boston LP notes and adds a few pertinent biographical details. It fills a lacuna in Grumiaux’s earlier years, catching him mid-way between the English Columbias and the Philips contract that soon beckoned. Again and again I turn to Grumiaux for some of the most lofty and beautiful playing of his generation and I shall turn to this disc with equal excitement and pleasure.

Jonathan Woolf

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