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Hélène Grimaud, Reflection, Truls Mørk, Anne Sofie von Otter (released on September 12, 2006)
Hélène Grimaud Box Set
Technically, Grimaud is a gifted player certainly, although not to mind-blowing proportions. What seems to please many listeners, myself included, is the individuality of her interpretation. All those strong ideas, which also come out in her politics and writing, lead her toward a sometimes unpredictable way of playing. That can be an exciting thing to hear from a purely solo player, but this CD is an anthology dominated by collaborative performances. In a sense when Grimaud is the soloist in a concerto, it is up to the orchestra to stay with her, but the role is reversed in the next two selections.
Accompanying is not a skill that comes naturally to all pianists, and the three brief tracks here, songs by Clara Schumann with mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, do not reveal Grimaud as a natural accompanist. She has a passionate sense of rubato, which leads her to make the introduction and brief interludes of Er ist gekommen (op. 12, no. 2) very turbulent. It's appropriately Romantic (Friedrich Rückert's poem is about a man who arrives "in storm and rain" to take the narrator's heart), but I cannot help but think that a singer would get kind of nervous listening to that sound while negotiating an entrance. Indeed, von Otter's voice has a jittery edge to it in this song. The third song, Am Strande (Wilhelm Gerhard's adaptation of a Robert Burns poem), is much the same. Happily, Grimaud's other strength, direct simplicity, is just what is needed for the second Rückert song, Warum willst du and're fragen, in which we seem to hear the calm, steadying voice of Clara Schumann in her husband's ears ("Do not believe strangers, / do not believe your own delusions; / nor should you interpret my actions, / but rather look at my eyes").
The best collaborative performance on this CD is with Truls Mørk, on the first Brahms cello
Grimaud can and does cut loose in these pieces, giving collar-poppingly uninhibited performances that one might not associate with Brahms but which are likely to quicken your pulse. (These pieces are marked "Agitato" and "Molto passionato," after all.) The second op. 79 rhapsody (G minor) is one of the most entertaining Brahms pieces to play at the piano, with its sweeping melodies and booming bass octaves. Grimaud stretches the tempo until it nearly breaks, both fast and slow, the former perhaps a tad in violation of Brahms's tempo modification ("ma non troppo allegro"). She does so not without a few smudged notes due to the precipitous pacing. Still, minor quibbles aside, this is satisfying playing.
Deutsche Grammophon 477 5719
For those in the area, Hélène Grimaud will play a recital this Sunday (November 5, 5:30 pm) at Shriver Hall in Baltimore. Her program will include the two Brahms rhapsodies recorded on this disc, as well as selections from her 2005 disc, the Chopin berceuse and barcarolle and Rachmaninov's second sonata. Her program opens with Busoni's arrangement of the Bach D minor chaconne.