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Briefly Noted: Grimaud's 'Water'

available at Amazon
Water, H. Grimaud

(released on January 29, 2016)
DG 0289 4793426-4 | 57'03"
Hélène Grimaud was last in Washington in 2008, to play Beethoven's fourth piano concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra. This recent release is partially a live recital program on the theme of water in music, which she played in several places, captured here at the Park Avenue Armory in New York in 2014. In between these tracks -- by Berio, Takemitsu, Fauré, Albéniz, Ravel, Liszt, Janáček, and Debussy -- are ethereal "transition" pieces, recorded last summer by Nitin Sawhney. In these brief, mostly electronic pieces, Sawhney creates soundscapes on keyboard, guitar, and computer, including some pre-recorded sounds of water.

The live version of this recital, reviewed in the New York Times, sounds much more interesting than the result on disc. A collaboration with artist Douglas Gordon and lighting designer Brian Scott, the concert was staged in a pool that slowly filled with water over the course of 20 minutes: "Then, the lights darkened until the hall was almost completely dark. You heard the subdued sloshing of someone walking on the flooded space: Ms. Grimaud, of course." Some of the repertoire choices are perhaps too obvious (Ravel's Jeux d'eau, Liszt's Les jeux d'eau a la Villa d'Este, Debussy's La Cathédrale Engloutie), making Grimaud's renditions of Takemitsu's Rain Tree Sketch II and Berio's Wasserklavier stand out from the crowd. A Fauré barcarolle and Janáček's In the Mists seem like stretches thematically, especially when there are choices like Ravel's Ondine, Scriabin's second sonata, and Debussy's Poissons d'Or. That last one was reportedly Grimaud's encore at some performances.

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