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.