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Hélène Grimaud (piano)
rec. 2017, Church of the Ascension, Munich-Sendling

“Memory is not concrete – it is a recollection of things past, defined as much by what fades as what remains”. Thus speaks Hélène Grimaud in an interview that makes up the booklet notes, within which she meditates upon ‘memory’, and says of the content of the CD:

“Music rouses memory through non-rational means and each of the pieces here is evocative of distinct features inspiring such contemplation: transparent textures, nostalgic, melancholic moods, cyclical structures. The works are simple, or rather there is a simplicity to them; it is, in a sense, immaterial music. It serves to conjure atmospheres of fragile reflection, a mirage of what was – or what could have been. I think of the album as a sequence of crystalline miniatures capturing time.”

Well, she has evidently thought a great deal about her recording, both in terms of content and how it sounds. She mentions that she found the “cavernous, resonant space of the church…a revelation to record in.” I was rather bothered when I read this, because I feared that it might adversely impact on the recording quality. I need not have worried – the piano sound has a nice, gentle halo around it, which I find to be most appropriate.

The record begins with Bagatelle Op.1/1 by Silvestrov. This is the first instrumental work by him that I have encountered, and the piece has a slightly hesitant quality which is nicely complemented by Debussy’s more forthright, light-filled Arabesque No.1, which follows. Another Bagatelle by Silvestrov, succeeds the Debussy, and in contrast, it is a far more sombre, dark hued affair, though quite memorable. Satie’s lovely Gnosssienne No.4 has Grimaud presenting the melody so effectively within the acoustic aura of the church that I had to listen to it over and over again - so utterly beguiling did it prove to be.

I found her performance of Chopin’s Op. posth Nocturne to be beautifully gradated in its rising and falling turbulence, and the same is true for Debussy’s La plus que lente, and has Clair de Lune ever fallen so ravishingly on my ears?

There is more Satie in the form of the Gnossiene No.1, the almost-hackneyed Gymnopedie No.1 and both Danse de travers (‘Crooked Dances’ from ‘Frozen Rooms’). Suffice to say that as a result of listening to Grimaud’s performances, I am encouraged to explore Satie’s piano output.

The disc ends with Nitin Sawhney’s Breathing Light. His music had passed me by until now. The work is vaguely minimalist in its propulsive repetition, and I found it to be the least impressive piece on the disc. That said, its presence does not deflect me from saying that this is a truly lovely album.

Jim Westhead

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849): Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17/4 [4:19], Nocturne in E minor, Op. 72/1 [4:04], Waltz in A minor, Op. 34/2 [5:26]
Claude Debussy (1862-1918): Arabesque No 1 [4:16], La plus que lente [4:15], Rêverie [3:34], Clair de lune [4:24]
Eric Satie (1866-1925): Gnossienne No. 1 [3:12], Gnossienne No. 4 [2:22], Gymnopédie No. 1 [3:13], Danse de travers No.1 [1:35], Danse de travers No. 2 [1:25]
Nitin Sawhney (1964-): Breathing Light [2:32]
Valentin Silvestrov (1937-): Bagatelles, Nos 1 [3:20] & 2 [3:38]



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