Thursday, 28 March 2013

Clara Haskil and Arthur Grumiaux

“And of course there is also Arthur Grumiaux” ends practically every survey of the peak of violin recordings. Grumiaux was not a great international traveller but, from his base in Belgium, he made innumerable recordings for the Dutch Philips company. Almost all his recordings are truly excellent, above all when it comes to Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and the Franco-Belgians of Franck, Vieuxtemps, Fauré, Debussy, etc. You want a safe recommendation? Go with Arthur, even 40, 50, 60 years on.

I have just been re-listening to the ten Beethoven violin and piano sonatas Grumiaux recorded with Clara Haskil in 1956 and 1957. Sixty years on, this old world, civilised playing by two supreme artists still holds its own. This is chamber music at its best, with neither artist striving for effect, both listening closely to each other, both supreme stylists in this music. Beethoven's works here have a welcome transparency and lucidity, far removed from the furious grandstanding that some artists try to bring to them; for a change, I even enjoyed the Kreutzer sonata, which I often find somewhat hectoring when performed by high-powered duos. Not here; Grumiaux's restrained opening solos, and Haskil's response, set the tone for a most enjoyable traversal.

To end: a word of praise for Clara Haskil. A legendary figure with a tragic life that only came into its own for the last ten or so years of her 65 years (she died after a fall at a Brussels railway station on her way to a concert with Grumiaux). Apparently also a truly excellent violinist (just as Grumiaux was also an excellent pianist) she brings a precision and clarity to her playing, qualities that made her almost unrivalled in Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven. Sometimes she and Grumiaux swapped roles, with Haskil on the violin and Grumiaux on the piano; that is chamber music making!

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