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Jonathan Woolf
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   Len Mullenger

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D, Op.61 (1806) [40:36]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Rondo in A, for violin and orchestra, D.438 (1816) [12:02]
Arthur Grumiaux (violin)
Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Francaise/Rafael Kubelík  (Beethoven) Carl Schuricht  (Schubert)
rec. January 1961, Paris (Beethoven) and September 1959, Montreux (Schubert)

It’s always valuable to encounter live examples of Arthur Grumiaux’s Beethoven Concerto to supplement the studio inscriptions he left behind. Familiarity with his 1957 recording with van Beinum, or his 1966 Galliera, or the more recent Concertgebouw disc with Colin Davis, may seem to be sufficient, given how unflappable and consistent an artist he remained. That said, there are invariably extra flashes of drama and local incident that vest live performances with a frisson of expectancy.

It’s particularly valuable, therefore, to welcome this 1961 Paris performance marshalled by none other than Rafael Kubelík who was almost always a most sympathetic but authoritative concerto accompanist. The percussion is rather muffled, and this watery quotient is one of the few disappointing things about the recorded performances, along with a somewhat swimmy acoustic and a tendency of the engineers to turn the volume down for tuttis. Set against that is the strong orchestral support offered by the Czech conductor and the firm sense of direction: Kubelik is certainly faster in basic pulse in the first movement than Galliera and that encourages Grumiaux’s expressivity to flourish at a good firm tempo. The big-boned orchestral sound stage also offers a strong platform for the soloist’s spinto tone quality, especially noticeable after the first movement cadenza, though this quality – I recall it being referred to once as ‘glistening’ – is thankfully omnipresent.

It’s a shame that the tutti level is so dampened by the engineers – to mitigate overload, I assume -. though in compensation, and as a direct result, one can hear Grumiaux’s eloquent bowing through the orchestral mass. The slow movement reveals an increasing range of tone colours from the violinist in a reading that in its essential lyricism is on a par with his studio recordings. The finale sees more knob-twiddling from the engineers’ booth and a resumption of audience shuffling and coughing. Whilst the sonic stage is not the most subtle, Grumiaux surmounts everything with splendid facility and dancing assurance. Applause is retained, though once again the orchestra’s final contribution is artificially dampened.

The violinist only left one studio recording of Schubert’s Rondo, made with the New Philharmonia and Raymond Leppard, so this live one with Carl Schuricht is valuable, for that reason alone. Fortunately, Grumiaux plays with buoyancy, and joie de vivre. It’s a shame that the chilly recording imparts a resinous quality to his tone.

Nevertheless, whilst the differences between this performance of the Concerto and the studio inscriptions may be less overt than between his early 1951-52 Boston recordings of chamber music and his later readings, there is much to commend this relatively rare example of Grumiaux on the wing in this Concerto.

Jonathan Woolf

Masterwork Index: Beethoven violin concerto