This is a tale of two pianists. One is Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who interprets three solo pieces - and whose hyphen is left out of his name on the packaging. The other is Hélène Grimaud, who finishes the disc off with the Piano Concerto in G. Thibaudet is, in the Sonatine’s opening movement and in Jeux d’eau especially, unusually reticent, giving the music a Debussy-like impressionism at some cost to flow. Grimaud’s concerto, on the other hand, is one of her most exciting, commanding performances on disc - well worth the budget cost.
Thibaudet’s Jeux d’eau adds a full minute and a half to performances by performers as hugely different as Alexandre Tharaud and Emil Gilels, and two minutes to Earl Wild’s performance - Wild sees the piece as a kind of miniature racecourse. I can’t say that Thibaudet’s performance is my favorite; it does seem a little disjointed in parts, a little in need of sparkle. The first movement of the Sonatine, at 5:25 (Argerich 3:59, Tharaud 3:45), is almost stubbornly slow, the opening tune in particular stretched to a rather odd length. The next two movements constitute an improvement.
Le Tombeau de Couperin is similarly eccentric, but it works a bit better; the unusually staccato delivery of the prelude underlines the classical foundation of the piece, and the stretched-out minuet doesn’t get too soggy under Thibaudet’s romantic tugging. Only in the Forlane does Thibaudet overindulge his desire to turn Ravel into Debussy. This is, like the other performances, for those who know Ravel well and want to hear a very different take.
What a difference, though, the concerto makes! Maybe Hélène Grimaud should have received the star billing on the cover: she plays the daylights out of the piece, aided every step of the way by a boisterous, vibrant Royal Philharmonic under Jesús Lopez-Cobos. The first movement has as many ‘street sounds’ and raucous outbursts as the Gershwin concerto, thanks to Grimaud’s dazzling attack and the uninhibited RPO brass. For the tender interlude with harp Lopez-Cobos knows just how much to step on the brakes, and Grimaud is finely poetic in the slow movement, too, although not to the level of, say, Martha Argerich or Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. When the madcap barrage of the finale begins, though, watch out!
So never mind the billing on the cover: it’s Grimaud who’s in charge here with a terrific concerto reading. This performance has bounced around several record labels, starting on Denon - which explains the very fine sound - and then migrating to several Brilliant Classics issues. If you haven’t snagged it yet, now’s the chance. The slashed price makes the Grimaud concerto a steal.
As a postscript: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen more record labels cited on a CD. This is a Regis CD, with a Regis catalogue number, but it is also a Portrait Classics CD with a separate Portrait catalogue number! Moreover in one place it says the sound was “Mastered for Regis,” in another “Remastered for Regis,” and in another “Remastered for Portrait.” Confused yet? Well, the disc also says it was licensed from Union Square Music, who in turn licensed it from SLG, while all the recordings originally appeared on Denon. The capable man doing the remastering, Paul Arden-Taylor, is also in charge of his own label, Dinmore Records. As Michael Palin would say, my brain hurts!