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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. Prelude in G sharp minor, Op. 32 No. 12. Etudes-tableaux, Op. 33 – No. 1 in F minor; No. 2 in C; No. 9 in C sharp minor. Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42.

Hélène Grimaud (piano); Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy.
Recorded in Watford Coliseum on September 15th-16th, 2000 (Concerto); Teldec Studios, Berlin on June 3rd-5th, 2000 (Preludes and Etudes-tableaux) and January 28th-30th, 2001 (Corelli Variations). [DDD]
TELDEC 8573-84376-2 [59.47]

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Here is a clear case of marketing gone, if not barking mad, certainly disturbingly cuckoo. Despite my reservations set out below, Grimaud is an exceptionally talented pianist whose main virtue is a sensitive musicianship. So: when one reads the inside back cover of the booklet, why does one find a whole page entitled 'Mini-poster Hélène Grimaud'? It is actually instructions on how to construct your very own stand for the photo of the back cover of the booklet (a photo remarkable similar to that to the front cover: both show Grimaud draped over the keyboard of a Steinway) if you take off the front plastic cover of the case and reverse it. Then, presumably, you can gaze at it while you listen to the music on the disc, (imagining Grimaud at work? I doubt that's what they had in mind).

Actually, it's just silly. Grimaud can and should stand perfectly well on her own ten fingers without props such as this, especially as this is such a well-planned Rachmaninov disc. Neither, interesting though it may be, do we really need to know that Grimaud can sees colours when she hears music (‘Synaesthesia’), especially as it is less intense when she is playing than when she is listening. So it would appear.

As far as recent issues are concerned, it is perhaps unfortunate that this comes up against the recent BBC Legends Moiseiwitsch disc (coupled with Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto). Moiseiwitsch plays with an authority and grasp which are impossible for Grimaud to match. She is at her finest in the supremely tender second movement, where she interacts well with the orchestra. Her playing is always neat and she shows herself to be capable of great delicacy in all three movements. She also has the ability to perform the musical equivalent of lifting one's eyebrow, with which she delightfully projects the scherzando element of the third movement. On the other side of the coin, she does have a tendency to pick out lines for no good apparent reason, which can be disturbing: this trait is heard especially in the first movement. Ashkenazy accompanies sympathetically, the recording presenting the detail of Rachmaninov’s sometimes thick scoring remarkably well. The Philharmonia is its usual silken self (the horn solo in the first movement is particularly beautiful).

The famous Prelude in G sharp minor, Op. 32 No. 12 brings us down to earth again after the pyrotechnics of the Second Concerto’s finale, although Grimaud is a bit dry (strangely short on pedal for a piece as evocative as this one). The Etudes-tableaux are better, Grimaud succeeding in portraying the angry opening of No. 7 well.

The Corelli Variations take us to later in Rachmaninov’s creative output. Grimaud’s performance is well-characterised, but she remains too much on the surface: there are deeper elements to be discovered in this score. She could have been more daring with Rachmaninov’s sonorities: they are frequently barer, more fragmentary that of the Rachmaninov of the Second Concerto. They need no apology, for they gain in significance if presented purely for what they are. This set of variations is one of the finest of Rachmaninov’s keyboard works: at least it is good to see it featured on a major international release.


Colin Clarke

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