BBC Music Magazine

From the archives

Andrew Mcgregor revisits beloved Philips recordings by the great Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux


I opened the handsome centenary set Arthur Grumiaux – Complete Philips Recordings (Decca 485 1160; 74 CDS) with slight trepidatio­n. Grumiaux was one of my idols in my days as a student violinist, and I scoured second-hand record shops for deleted LPS, eager to have the great Belgian introduce me to the repertoire. What a strong, beautifull­y focused sound – not as overtly brilliant as Heifetz or as voluptuous as Oistrakh, but perfect intonation, such sweetly singing tone and somehow quietly virtuosic. He was never showy for the sake of it. Grumiaux covered a huge range of music in his 20 years on Philips, from Telemann’s solo Fantasias through to the Berg Concerto. Why was I worried? I was hoping I’d still hear the subtle musicality I remembered, even in pre-period instrument Baroquery – and I’m delighted to report that Grumiaux’s solo Bach passes the test; stylish, self-effacing and elegantly phrased.

The earliest recordings are the Mozart and Mendelssoh­n Concertos in Vienna in 1953, and the recorded sound is still pretty good. But his best Mozart came later: the concertos with Colin Davis and the LSO in the early ’60s, the string quintets with the augmented Grumiaux Trio, and the sonatas in the magical duo he had with Clara Haskil until her tragic death in 1960. Beethoven sonatas as well, with Haskil and Arrau; and all three Beethoven concerto recordings are outstandin­g, though there’s something special about the mid-’60s version with the New Philharmon­ia and Alcea Galliera. There’s a memorable Brahms Horn Trio with Francis Orval and György Sebök. A real curiosity is Grumiaux, an accomplish­ed pianist, playing both parts in the Brahms A major Sonata. I still have my LP of the Berg and Stravinsky Concertos, outstandin­g performanc­es with the Concertgeb­ouw Orchestra – Grumiaux’s crisp virtuosity in the Stravinsky and his searing purity of tone in the Berg are utterly captivatin­g. Grumiaux might have approved of the sober excellence of the design and presentati­on, worthy of violin playing as effortless­ly musical and timeless as his.

Andrew Mcgregor is the presenter of

Radio 3’s Record Review, broadcast each Saturday morning from 9am until 11.45am

 ??  ?? Quietly virtuosic: the violinist Arthur Grumiaux in 1961
Quietly virtuosic: the violinist Arthur Grumiaux in 1961
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