French-born Augustin Dumay received his training on the violin mostly within the Franco-Belgian tradition (studying with Charmy and later with Grumiaux), but also experienced something of the Russian (Stolyarsky-Auer) school from Milstein. This mixed heritage is borne out in his playing style which, despite his being dubbed ‘the legitimate heir to the royal Belgian line of […] Ysaÿe, Dubois and Grumiaux’ by The Strad, is of the modern international persuasion rather than exemplifying any particular nationalist school. His career also illustrates clearly how the recordings industry is (and has been since its genesis) an essential partner for any aspiring musician; his two successive long-term contracts with EMI and Deutsche Grammophon each demonstrate a methodical programme of recordings spanning standard salon and concerto repertoire and, in the latter case, promotion of a very successful duo pairing with pianist Maria-João Pires and an award-winning trio with Pires and cellist Jian Wang. In live performance Dumay has appeared with many of the world’s top orchestras and conductors and at numerous festivals. He has also followed the re-emergent practice of directing ensembles from the violin, notably in a set of Mozart concertos with the Salzburg Camerata (1998) and visually documented in Gérard Corbiau’s 2011 film Augustin Dumay—laisser une trace dans le coeur.
Although the kind of national stylistic traits with which Dumay is credited have become generally less discernible over the post-war decades, there is still something sensuous in Dumay’s tone which is deep and lustrous. There is also an unmistakable bite in separate-bowed or détaché passages that is clearly a trademark of his style, and something that makes his Beethoven ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata (part of a much-anticipated release in 2002), for example, a characterful performance. His 1988 Lalo Concerto has a similarly clear-toned approach, although the slow movement is subject to a rather strident G-string tone and inconsistent vibrato (favouring certain notes in the phrase for apparently arbitrary artistic reasons). Mozart’s Sonata K. 301 (the first product, in 1991, of Dumay’s long association with Deutsche Grammophon and of his partnership with Pires) is a lively performance in the modern mould, with vibrant staccato in the second movement and a remarkably large tone, again expressed with an unusually powerful and wide vibrato, whilst Grieg’s Op. 45 (1993) is given a notably dramatic reading with some really beautiful pianism at the start of the slow movement by Maria-João Pires that illustrates the worth of the Dumay-Pires pairing.
The greater part of Dumay’s recording under contract with EMI and Deutsche Grammophon has been of standard works in the violin canon, but his playing in Petitgirard’s dark, introspective Le Légendaire (1996) is insightful and atmospheric, making it regrettable that he has not brought more of such relatively unfamiliar music to his audience. In many ways Dumay’s recordings suggest the work of an artist who is typical of his generation and who, perhaps, has been rather carefully ‘processed’ by big recording labels; he is distinguished, though, by his powerful sound and a certain strength of purpose in interpretation.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)
Role: Classical Artist