There have been
elite players who have reached an exceptional standard in official
(or unofficial) second-study instruments. Kreisler never made
a fetish of his piano playing though there’s a rare example
of it on record. Heifetz too was by all accounts a fine pianist,
though we have no extant evidence of it so far as I’m aware.
The third spot in the triumvirate of great fiddle players would
probably go to Enescu – but then he could turn his hand seemingly
to anything. But there was a fourth in the shape of Arthur Grumiaux
who was a prize-winning violinist and pianist at the
age of eleven and who kept up his pianistic chops even as he
toured and recorded. And the evidence is here.
Heifetz left an
over-dubbed recording; his famous and notorious Bach Double
in which he took his epoch making playing to the logical limit
by dispensing with a soloist partner and conductor and doing
the whole job himself. I believe optical film was used. In October
1959 Grumiaux went into the studio to record the Brahms Op.100
and Mozart K481 sonatas, playing both parts. The greater burden
falls in the Brahms, though obvious problems exist in both cases.
This could rightly be called a stunt, the exact word annotator
Raymond Tuttle uses (and then disregards) in his sleeve-note.
I dare say we would not know if we weren’t told but the fact
of the matter is that we are told.
Grumiaux plays the
Mozart (on violin, I think I should add for the moment) very
lyrically, employing perhaps rather more portamento than he
would a decade later, though they’re graciously quick and enlivening.
He cultivates beautiful warmth and tonally he makes a consistently
bigger sound than we’re perhaps used to. His Allegro finale
is suitably deft and witty, full of strong characterisation.
His piano playing leads when necessary and is punctiliously
clean and impressive. As an old British comedian was fond of
saying – You Can’t See The Join. Similarly with the Brahms,
which receives a boldly sunny reading full of his generous and
classical restraint, qualities that suit this sonata perfectly.
And qualities we find in his piano playing to an almost comparable
The Grieg is the
sole example of Grumiaux with a colleague. Here we have his
long time colleague, the Hungarian István Hajdu. There were
always bigger toned players in this work, more highly personalised
and superficially exciting exponents. But what Grumiaux does
is to balance the folkloric and the effortlessly lyric with
marvellously calibrated precision; neither predominates and
the sonata is kept in perfect balance.
Given the unusual
nature of the over-dubbing this has been one of the rarer items
from Grumiaux’s discography and it’s pleasurable to encounter
it in this well engineered and, as they say on the cover, “unique”
disc. So full marks to Australian Decca for this – and let’s
hope some questing soul will dig out Grumiaux’s wonderful recording
on 78s of the Bach Double with English violinist Jean
Pougnet. You’ll forget overdubbed Heifetz (and Szigeti/Flesch
and a host of others) when you hear these two in full flight.