Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D (SACD review)

Also, Serenade melancolique; Bruch: Scottish Fantasy. Arthur Grumiaux, violin; Jan Krenz and Heinz Wallberg, New Philharmonia Orchestra. PentaTone Classics SACD 5186-117.

I have always thought of Arthur Grumiaux as a rather sedate violinist, a refined and cultured gentleman seldom given to flights of fancy or overt showmanship. Thusly does his 1975 recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto strike me, a classic example of allowing the music to speak for itself. For comparisons, I had on hand two other skilled exponents of the bow whom I highly admire, Perlman and Heifetz, both of whom are more outwardly showy and energetic in the work. Well, there’s no denying that Tchaikovsky requires both technical virtuosity and a strong degree of passion, and I don’t mean to imply that Grumiaux hasn’t qualifications in either department. There is emotion in every note he plays. It’s just that his appears to be a more effortless passion than the others display.

Perhaps the man expressed his relaxed and sensitive approach to music making even better in the disc’s companion piece, the Bruch Scottish Fantasy, where Grumiaux allows the often-lyrical and rhapsodic folk tunes literally to soar. It is delightful.

The sound, which Philips recorded originally in four channels but made heretofore available only in two-channel stereo, is, like the performances, easygoing, warm, and slightly soft in its two-channel presentation, even in its SACD layer played back through a Sony SACD player. I found this especially apparent in the comparisons I made, the Perlman on a Chesky gold remastering, the Heifetz on one of  JVC’s XRCDs. Both Perlman and Heifetz sounded noticeably more focused and precise, with better orchestral depth. I’m not suggesting, however, that there is anything wrong with the PentaTone sound, and, indeed, many listeners may prefer it to the more analytical presentation on the Chesky and JVC discs.

A final concern: Why buy PentaTone? They make hybrid SACDs containing a multichannel layer (from 3 to 5.1 channels) and a regular two-channel layer. They produce some recently recorded work and some older, quadraphonic pieces. And, as I say, they are capable of holding up to 5.1 channels. But since Philips recorded the Tchaikovsky and Bruch in four channels, not five-point-one, the record company chose to keep it that way rather than try to synthesize a center channel and/or create a separate bass. I’d say if you have the capability of playing things back in the Super Audio CD format, PentaTone offers that distinct advantage. Another plus is that PentaTone probably mastered even the regular stereo layer to disc as well as it could be. I found the sound reasonably quiet, and, slightly soft or not, still quite natural and pleasant.

Then there’s a final reason for considering this particular PentaTone release: As far as I can tell, no one but PentaTone is still making the performances available new (although one can certainly find used Philips copies available). In any case, it’s a disc worth looking into.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

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.

Mission Statement

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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa