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Clara Haskil and Arthur Grumiaux
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin Sonata No 4 in A Major Op 23 (1800)
Violin Sonata No 10 in G Major Op 96 (1812)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Violin Sonata in B Flat major K378 (1779 or 1781)
Clara Haskil, piano
Arthur Grumiaux, violin
Recorded Ascona, 22 August 1960
AURA 126-2 [53.11]

The Grumiaux-Haskil duo lasted for over a decade and committed a sizable chunk of its repertoire to disc. That it was a necessarily circumscribed repertoire – Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert in the main – was a matter of collective choice and whilst we can regret that they were not more adventurous (I’ve always rather wanted to hear them essay the Third Enescu Sonata for instance) we can still rejoice that so much was recorded and that live performances such as this one have survived. This was in fact previously available on the Ermitage label and documents a recital given in Ascona during the year of Haskil’s death, 1960.

Grumiaux was a patrician artist if ever there was one though the refinement of his tonal qualities is chartable and demonstrable in a series of more fiery American recordings from the early 1950s. These poised and elegant performances merely reinforce the impression gained from the recorded legacy. The Beethoven A Major sonata was taped for Philips with Haskil and also Claudio Arrau whilst the final Sonata, the G Major, saw a commercial recording only with her – though broadcasts have survived of this Ascona performance and an earlier one in September 1957 from the Besancon Festival (once available on Melodram and Recital Records). The Mozart Sonata was a favourite of Grumiaux’s. He recorded it for Philips with Haskil and again in 1982 with Walter Klien, four years before Grumiaux’s premature death.

So these are well-charted waters and enough documentary evidence exists to sustain the argument that the violinist was one of the most lucid interpreters of the classical violin repertoire in the second half of the twentieth century. The big G Major Sonata was, as with all items here, rather distantly recorded and there are coughs aplenty in the bronchial autumn Ascona audience. Grumiaux’s tone is only imperfectly caught here. There’s an occasionally uncharacteristic astringency to it as well – but we can still appreciate the stately elegance and deliberation of his and Haskil’s playing. In the slow movement, whilst she is not unfeeling, she still emerges as rather severe. By contrast the subtlety of Grumiaux’s vibrato variance is clearly audible even in these circumstances, his slight rubati and tonal colouration as ever-treasurable features of his playing. He is likewise full of a coursing nobility even if lacking the last ounce of plangency. The finale is animated by a lovely sense of elasticity with rubati effortlessly embedded into the syntax of the score. The earlier A Major sonata reveals equal qualities if sharing a less than flattering aural perspective. Haskil employs a non-legato approach to the slow movement, which imparts a rather restless animation to it. Use of the dampening pedal also adds its own patina of abruptness with clipped phrase endings. Grumiaux’s songful legato in the Allegro molto is contrastive and delightful. In the Mozart sonata the duo are on terra firma again; buoyant, full of classical elegance but romantic sensibility. They neither affect to mine too much nor skate too glassily over the surface of the music. Again the performance can’t be ideally recommended – too many coughs, too recessed a recording, too unflattering an edge on the violinist’s tone, but admirers of the duo won’t be unduly bothered by these distractions. To catch the Grumiaux-Haskil duo on the wing is prize itself.

Booklet notes are by Piero Rattalino once more and are far more circumspect, biographical and level-headed than his notes for a Milstein release in this series though I do wish writers would rid themselves of the notion that the only functioning violin-piano duo in the whole of pre-War Europe was the Busch-Serkin. Otherwise rather more of a release for admirers than the casual listener but admirers will know that this duo was one of the stellar exponents of the repertoire.

Jonathan Woolf


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