Also Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1*. Arthur Grumiaux, violin; Sir Colin Davis; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; *Heinz Wallberg; *New Philharmonia Orchestra. PentaTone Classics SACD 5186 120.
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.
About the Author
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
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