Sunday, 11 February 2018

An Afternoon of Saint-Saëns, and Chausson

A mini festival of French music this afternoon, with Camille Saint-Saëns and Ernest Chausson. Monsieur Saint-Saëns contributed his Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso, plus his third violin concerto, plus his Havanaise opus 83. Monsieur Chausson contributed his Poème. All these works were Heifetz specialities, of course (apart from the Saint-Saëns violin concertos that Heifetz never recorded, for reasons I cannot understand).

Notwithstanding the magnificent Jascha Heifetz in these works, I listened to them played by Arthur Grumiaux, who was ill-served by the Philips recording team in the 1950s, but the team made up for it in the 1960s. I grew up with the various Heifetz recordings but, somewhat to my surprise, I found myself admiring Grumiaux even more. In terms of violin playing, both the Russian and the Belgian are supreme here. It is just that Grumiaux seems to play the Franco-Belgian repertoire with a natural accent, whereas Heifetz's accent is acquired and studied, rather than natural. Difficult to explain, like so much in music when it comes to words. But listening to the violin's entrance in the Chausson as played by Heifetz, my reaction is: “Wow, what superb playing!” When Grumiaux makes his entrance (accompanied by the Lamoureux Orchestra in 1966), the reaction is: “Wow, what superb music!”

Finishing up with a dessert of Ravel's ubiquitous Tzigane, I found myself profoundly admiring Grumiaux's playing (1966). Many players, including Patricia Kopatchinskaja, ham up the gypsy element until it becomes almost a caricature. With Grumiaux, Tzigane sounds like a piece of exotic music by Maurice Ravel, much as his Shéhérazade is a piece of exotic Oriental music.

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