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Johann Sebastian BACH (1650-1750)
Preludes and Fugues (Well-Tempered Clavier): C minor, BWV847 (1722) [3:13]; C sharp minor, BWV849 [7:33]; D minor, BWV875 (1738-1742) [2:13]; A minor, BWV889 (1738-1742) [5:20]; E, BWV878 (1738-1742) [6:39].
Keyboard Concerto in D minor, BWV1052a
Johann Sebastian BACH/Ferricio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV1004 (1720) – Chaconne [14:31].
Johann Sebastian BACH/Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV543 (arr. 1842-50) [9:27].
Johann Sebastian BACH/Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Violin Partita in E, BWV1006 (1720) – Prelude.
Hélène Grimaud (piano)
aDeutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen.
rec. Gunkhaus, Berlin, August 2008 and Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg-Harburg, May 2008 (Concerto)
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 7978 [76:03]
Experience Classicsonline


Hélène Grimaud’s recent traversal of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto at London’s Festival Hall was convincing testimony to her continuing artistic development. This Bach disc is, if anything, more impressive. It deserves to join Martha Argerich’s legendary DG disc (DG Originals 463 604-2) as an eloquent argument for Bach on the piano. As Grimaud herself puts it, “the instrument you play hardly matters – the message transcends the vehicle”, hence also the inclusion of transcriptions by Liszt, Busoni and Rachmaninov. Her choice of transcribers is mainstream, though. These three are the most famous arrangers of Bach’s music for piano and, as projects such as Hyperion’s Bach transcriptions have proven, many other fascinating arrangements exist.

Grimaud states that in making the disc, she wanted to get closer to Bach’s music, “to the secret of its universal power”. She speaks of Glenn Gould’s “courage”, while she admires Edwin Fischer (whose recordings of Bach Concertos remain among the greatest), Perahia, Schiff and Hewitt. Her synaesthesia surfaces, too, albeit via metaphor. Talking of the Rachmaninov transcription, she states that “for me its E major tonality indicates sunrise”.

The recital is exquisitely programmed. Each transcription is preceded by a “pure” Prelude and Fugue in the same key, while that which precedes the Bach/Busoni also echoes the D minor of the Concerto. Two pieces of Bach-proper begin. The C minor Prelude and Fugue from “Das wohltemperierte Clavier” Book 1 features an exquisitely-voiced Fugue, balancing the remorseless semi-quavers of the Prelude - although even here Grimaud is most sensitive.

The Prelude to the C sharp minor Prelude and Fugue, BWV849, could hardly be more different. Restrained and reverent, Grimaud holds the attention while retaining a single, low dynamic level. The Fugue itself opens almost inaudibly and grows gradually but inexorably in a perfectly graded crescendo.

The Concerto, which Grimaud directs herself, is very varied in touch and dynamic, more immediately feminine than Edwin Fischer in his famous 1933 account - now on a difficult to locate EMI Références disc. It is a great compliment to Grimaud that her reading in no way loses out to Fischer’s, but rather complements it. The upper strings sound rather distanced in the slow movement, their whispered counterpoints to the long single-line piano melody like ghosts, as if they deliberately force us to seek them out. This is mesmeric playing. The finale is spotlessly delivered, although here a touch more energy would have carried it through more convincingly.

Grimaud follows this with the D major Prelude and Fugue, BWV875, with a brief Fugue that features superlative, unrushed articulation. On the Bach/Busoni Chaconne, Grimaud poetically comments that, “you feel you’re dancing with your own shadow”. This is an altogether grander edifice to negotiate, and Grimaud fearlessly brings it to majestic climaxes. Grimaud portrays this as a varied landscape, using at times liquid articulation to contrast with the more immediately imposing elements.

Interesting that the A minor Prelude and Fugue follows, where the fugue’s big-boned delivery seems to grow organically as an offshoot of the Chaconne. The A minor tonality links to the Bach/Liszt transcription of the organ fugue in the same key. Grimaud seeks beauty here, and finds it in abundance. She also appears to revel in the sense of space that Bach’s unfolding argument creates. More intimate is the E major Prelude and Fugue from Book II, before the disc finishes on the bright Bach/Rachmaninov Prelude in E.

This is a major release. The piano sound is expertly realised. Grimaud is still young (she was born in 1969) – on the present evidence, one has to ask, just what can she go on to achieve?. Future releases are eagerly awaited.


Colin Clarke




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