This is exactly what Hélène Grimaud played at London’s Royal Festival Hall recently (http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2005/Jan-Jun05/grimaud0902.htm;
and just look at the playing time!). Nerves clearly played an
element in the Grimaud-live experience, as this is one disc
that is preferable to the live event. But given the hype that
Grimaud has been enjoying, this disc is ultimately somewhat
disappointing, while remaining a rare occasion when the CD is
preferable to the frisson of a live event.
the Rachmaninov between two bouts of Chopin; the recital closed
with the Rachmaninov. Immediately juxtaposing the two B flat
minor Second Sonatas (if only their opus numbers had matched,
too – so close!) pays dividends as we have two composers, arguably
at their best in miniatures, flexing their musico-structural
The Chopin Second
is notoriously tricky to bring off, partially because of ‘that’
finale. It may only last around 1½ minutes (1’35 here), but
its elusive wind has blown through the gravestones of many a
pianist. But it is not only the finale. There is the ‘impulsive’
nature of much of the material of the first movement - which
Grimaud projects very well. Grimaud sounds more natural than
at the RFH, indeed more aware of what is actually going on.
The fragmentation of the initial motif of the ‘Doppio movimento’
at around 4’25 sees Grimaud making the listener very aware of
the gestural fragmentation at work here. The recording supports
her well (nice and deep at the opening), but does on occasion
sounds as if the pianist is taking it close to overload.
Scherzo, splashy at the South Bank, here sounds rather more
awkward, the repeated notes awkward, rather like a stutter,
and while care is evident in the Trio, there is still the impression
that Grimaud is only 90% involved - as opposed to around 60%
the Marche funèbre is more concentrated than was the case in London, it still
avoids the nightmarish. Again the shaft of light (around 2’30
here) fails to make full effect, and a left-hand trill - just
before the nine-minute mark - is well-drilled but expressionless.
The finale works better here than live, without being seriously
disturbing in any way.
Berceuse (that here emerges as aural balm after the ravages
of the Rachmaninov) and the Barcarolle are given in reverse
order from the London recital.
The Barcarolle is in the event a lovely way to close
the disc, Grimaud obviously not trying to play to anywhere’s
furthest reaches, instead trying to bring the listener to her,
subtly. And succeeding this time.
Second Sonata is heard here in the 1931 version ‘with borrowings
from the 1913 version’. The version does not entirely rescue
Rachmaninov from charges of bombast, it must be admitted, but
the affinity Grimaud enjoys with this composer, noted at the
time of the London recital, is once more clear. The second movement - with
the rather strange indication, ‘Non allegro’ - begins in rather
a doodly fashion, yet as the music progresses so does Grimaud’s
identification; and the varied terrain of the finale comes across
well, with plenty of rhythmic drive to propel the listener to
booklet includes an interview by Michael Church with the pianist.
Grimaud states that this disc is ‘about death and transcendence’.
She also says that Horowitz making his own version of the Rachmaninov
‘made me feel I was not necessarily being presumptuous in making
my own’. Many of the points she makes – about Chopin and Rachmaninov
– actually have real beauty about them. A great pity the playing,
whatever its strengths, does not match up to these thoughts.