Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D (SACD review)
After an evening of close and careful listening, it is my expert, absolute, and unequivocal opinion that it's a toss-up. Let me explain.
Around 1974 Henryk Szeryng recorded the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra for Philips. Around the same time Arthur Grumiaux recorded the same concerto with the same orchestra, this time with Colin Davis, and again for Philips. I always confused the two releases, but ultimately I came to like Szeryng's better-controlled (though marginally slower) account to Grumiaux's smoother, more romantic, but slightly more lax version. After an hour or so comparing this new PentaTone SACD remastering of the Grumiaux performance to Szeryng's, I still confuse them.
Choice in the Beethoven Violin Concerto is certainly a wide-open field with dozens of fine competitors, but I'd still say these two are leading contenders for top honors. The ultimate choice between them, however, might be dependent on what the listener prefers for sound and coupling. PentaTone got hold of some of Philips's multichannel tapes, so if you own SACD playback equipment, you can listen to Grumiaux in surround sound. I listened to both discs in two-channel audio, though, through both a standard CD player and an SACD player. The PentaTone disc, you see, is a hybrid that can be played in regular two-channel, SACD two-channel or SACD multichannel. I found the PentaTone sound for Grumiaux a tad fluffy, misty, reverberant, and the ordinary Philips disc for Szeryng a bit tighter and better defined.
As couplings, the Philips offers Szeryng and Haitink performing the two Beethoven Violin Romances as well as they've ever been done; and the PentaTone has the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1, with Heinz Wallberg conducting the New Philharmonia Orchestra. While the Bruch sounds even bigger than the Beethoven, there is no denying it is striking, and both of the PentaTone offerings probably sound even more impressive in surround. Tough choices, but if you're into SACD, you probably can't go wrong with the Grumiaux issue. For regular stereo listening, probably Szeryng.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.