Born in Latvia while the country was still under Soviet control, Ilya Grubert received the traditional Russian-school training bestowed upon promising young violinists: his teachers included Yuri Yankelevich, Zinaida Gilels and Leonid Kogan. With successes at several international violin competitions behind him Grubert, who plays a Pietro Guarneri violin formerly owned by Wieniawski, embarked upon a solo career that has seen him perform with countless top orchestras and conductors around the world. He now lives in Holland, teaching at the Amsterdam Conservatory.
Grubert’s selected recordings display his penchant for Russian repertoire, of which he is a persuasive interpreter. His twentieth-century works are perhaps the finest, including performances of Miaskovsky’s Violin Concerto (2003), Prokofiev’s Op. 80 Sonata (1992) and Shostakovich’s 3 Fantastic Dances (2001). All reveal a powerful and well-connected tone typical of his Russian training, but somehow—rather as with Boris Belkin—softer-edged than that of many older Soviet players. Arutiunian’s Violin Concerto (composed in 1988; recorded 1996) is a curious mixture of light music (especially in the second movement) and basically tonal musical gestures of a relatively unchallenging musical nature; Grubert’s playing here is appropriate to the idiom. The Tchaikovsky and Ernst compositions selected here show his approach to earlier repertoire. The Fantaisie (2004) by Heinrich Ernst (whom Joachim reputedly considered to be the greatest violinist of his age, and who performed with Paganini) has a pleasing looseness to the tone, but both orchestra and soloist are rather tremulous and a more direct sound would be more apt in this style. The Tchaikovsky Concerto (1999) is exceptional mainly in terms of a quite extraordinarily wide and slow vibrato (particularly marked in the first movement cadenza) which is far more idiomatic of Grubert than of Tchaikovsky’s sound world, resembling the kind of extreme operatic oscillations that can obscure pitch in singing. What is clear in all of these performances, however, is a strong soloistic personality and a good deal of projection; both are characteristics typical of players trained in the former USSR.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)