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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata in E flat major for piano and violin KV481 *[18.27]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No.2 in A major Op.100  (1886)* [19.19]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Violin Sonata No.3 in C minor Op.45 (1888) [23.01]
Arthur Grumiaux (violin and piano*- overdubbed, playing both instruments)
István Hajdu (piano – Grieg)
Recorded 1959 (Mozart, Brahms) 1961 (Grieg)
PHILPS ELOQUENCE 476 7930 [60:58]

 

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 degree.

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.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 



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