Grimaud remains one of the most individual – and hence unclassifiable
– pianists of today. Her autobiography, Wild Harmonies: A
Life of Music and Wolves (Riverhead) provides some clues,
as headstrong tales of music are interwoven with wolf lore.
The accompanying promotional DVD to this disc finds her referring
to the philosophical aspects of Beethoven. She is still young,
and so fearless in the face of these towering edifices of the
repertoire. Despite that she seems concurrently aware of the
responsibility she faces when setting her interpretations down
on such a high-profile disc.
said all that, one of the reasons for acquiring this disc could
easily be the resplendent sound of the Staatskapelle Dresden,
surely one of the great orchestras. Jurowski inspires them to
play with great vigour, presumably a deliberate contrast to
Grimaud’s rather dreamy take on matters.
The recording is crystal clear. I played the disc on two separate
systems; on the cheaper of the two the piano high end sounded
rather tinny while this was not a problem on the higher-end
has a technique which is strong but still betrays struggle at
times. Listen for example to the (in)famous passage around 6:50
into the first movement. But it is her interpretation that fascinates.
The passage around 14:29 is where most pianists relax the tempo
a little - interestingly, Pollini in his earlier DG recording
more than most; not Grimaud. As the performance runs on, Grimaud
makes one feel that it has a certain rightness, if not greatness.
The feminine element to the delicacy in Beethoven is not inappropriate,
and she displays great power when necessary, too. You can hear
this in the big, climactic chords in dialogue with the orchestra.
It is the underlying power of her playing that leaves the most
slow movement moves well. The Dresden strings are magnificent,
but it is Grimaud that plays like a dream. She includes some
harsh attacks in her timbral vocabulary: 3:15 - deliberately,
surely?. This implies that all is not as refulgent as it may
at first seem. The miraculous transition to the last movement
is managed with held breath, leading to a movement that is full
of internal energy as well as pure speed.
Grimaud is not afraid to use iron fingers when she deems it
appropriate, either, contrasting with passages of amazing delicacy.
The very final flourishes sound ever so slightly laboured; again,
one has to ask whether this is deliberate?
tackle late Beethoven just shows what type of risks Grimaud
is willing to take. Schnabel
in 1934 remains one of my benchmarks in Op. 101, with Pollini
the modern reference - currently on DG Originals. Grimaud lavishes
much love on this work. The opening is peaceful and assured,
in total contrast to the second movement where Grimaud is very
obviously jerky, very aware of Beethoven the experimenter, without
her playing ever not sounding like Beethoven. She finds
much beauty – a strange beauty – amongst Beethoven's impeccable
promo DVD includes a film of Grimaud
tackling the C major first Prelude from
Bach‘s Das wohltemperierte Clavier,
plus sundry, and brief, rehearsal footage
and commentary. There is a choice of
English version with German subtitles,
or French version. A discussion of her
disc Credo acts in pure promotion;
while the final taster of Bach is maybe
a hint of things to come?
Dickerson received the press advanced
copy of this disc
Firstly, let me make
it clear that the luxurious press pack
I received in relation to this disc
only included the performance of the
concerto and not the sonata, so my comments
are limited in scope as a result.
Reading through the
accompanying documentation it is impossible
to avoid phrases such as, "Sound
for Hélène Grimaud is
space for thought – a place where everything
is possible. It also means taking the
world apart in order to put it back
together in a new form. And that’s precisely
what she does, whilst remaining true
to her idol Ludwig van Beethoven […]
Grimaud is a philosopher at the concert
grand who confronts in interpretation
our present-day chaos […] The piano
concerto is a beast, for whom one has
So much for the music
being left to speak for itself or Grimaud’s
interpretation making its own mark amongst
the crowded field of alternative versions.
We are promised something different
– "new, fresh, contemporary"
– but is it delivered?
In a word, yes. This
is a fresh and vital recording of the
concerto from first bar to last. The
orchestra is admirably full of body,
with the recording sneaking in details
such as the precision of the timpani,
that really do add enough to make you
want to sit up and take notice. Vladimir
Jurowski adopts a typically bullish
tempo for the opening movement that
ensures things are kept moving. The
moments of aside that the soloist offers
are rightly taken as contrast within
a whole; even Grimaud’s tone intimates
this as she shades the line accordingly.
Her playing, which can have a tendency
to be big-boned for its own sake when
heard live, largely avoids that characteristic,
though it is produced when required
in some impressively full chord work.
The second movement
Adagio is more inward looking – as it
should be – though it never becomes
slack. Grimaud and Jurowski are remarkably
attuned in finding and maintaining a
light and airy atmosphere throughout.
The transition to the third movement
is most sensitively played by Grimaud,
whereupon she picks up the new mood
instantly and Jurowski underlines this
sensitively as the closing Rondo progresses.
Much as I admire the readings of, say,
Fischer and Furtwängler or Pollini
and Abbado, they do sound a touch staid
alongside the sparkle that is palpable
between all concerned on this present