Medici Masters – Arthur Grumiaux & Ferenc Fricsay

0 of 5 stars

Divertimento for String Orchestra
Violin Concerto in D
The Rite of Spring

Arthur Grumiaux (violin)

Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester [Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra]
Ferenc Fricsay

Stravinsky Violin Concerto recorded on 8 July 1951 at the Ruhrfestspiele, Recklinghausen, Germany; Bartók and The Rite of Spring recorded in the Funkhaus, Saal 1, WDR Cologne on 4 May 1953 (Divertimento) & 28 March 1955

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: September 2007
Duration: 78 minutes



Ferenc Fricsay recorded the Bartók and Stravinsky commercially (for DG), just as Arthur Grumiaux did the Stravinsky (Philips). These three works make a good ‘concert’ even though they are from separate occasions, albeit the Bartók would have been better at the start of the disc rather than after the concerto.

The opening of the Divertimento is rather bass-light and seems limp; but the first movement soon develops both intensity and detailing and Fricsay (1914-1963) proves a compelling advocate (as one would expect) for this inappropriately titled work. Fricsay’s flexibility of pace and his appreciation of the music’s ‘significance’ – especially the shadows and lamenting of the middle movement (which rises to a blistering climax) – really puts his empathetic stamp on the music and has the strings of the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra caught up in the emotional turmoil. The finale is full of impetus energy although the ‘snapped’ pizzicatos go for virtually nothing but the ‘local colour’ of the rhythms is obviously led by a native and the orchestra responds as a mix of gypsy band and symphony orchestra, the ‘witty’ pizzicato episode before the close brought off expressively.

Hungarian conductor Ferenc Fricsay (1914-63)Stravinsky’s neo-baroque Violin Concerto found an ideal proponent in the aristocratic Grumiaux (and he was a Baron!). Grumiaux (1921-1986) avoids exaggerating the accents and the glissandos in the first movement – in which the orchestra sports a very secure trumpeter – adopting both a ‘straight line’ and a sense of fantasy within it. Fricsay and the orchestra produce a bright and incisive accompaniment in which Grumiaux – beautifully balanced – is ‘first among equals’ and his unindulgent response to the two middle movements (both entitled ‘Aria’) is ideally objective but not without feeling; the finale is crisply resolute if just a little scrambled and not always exact enough in terms of ensemble. Overall, though, this difficult-to-bring-off concerto, receives a very distinguished performance.

The Rite of Spring ideally requires the very best stereo sound; the recording here is mono, of course – and there are many ‘sonic spectaculars’ of this now-showpiece around – but Fricsay treats the work not as a gallery-pleasing ‘sensation’ but as music rooted to nature and theatre. It is not the most pagan, ritualistic or hard-hitting version – but is uncommonly well-detailed and tempos are superbly judged. What is does sound like is ballet music – which of course was The Rite’s raison d’être – and while it is also a great concert work (as well as being seminal) Fricsay reminds that ‘something’ is being enacted here and there is indeed a vivid sense of narrative. This may not be a flawless performance but it has bags of character and is light-years away from those vacuous renditions that seem only concerned with virtuosity, speed and decibels. The recording here, while limited, is honest ‘radio stock’ and relays a rewarding performance. Re-mastering is very well achieved.

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