Don Juan, Op.20 Ravel
Piano Concerto in G Strauss
Also sprach Zarathustra, Op.30
Hélène Grimaud (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
LSO/Harding [Don Juan ... Hélène Grimaud plays Ravel ... Also sprach Zarathustra]
Thursday, February 10, 2011 Barbican Hall, London
Reviewed by Andrew Maisel
Two fine Strauss performances here, Daniel Harding having the full measure of these works, carefully avoiding bombast and drawing some superb playing from the London Symphony Orchestra. If Don Juan didn’t quite strut his stuff with the confidence and sexual swagger of other interpretations – Harding making him less a serial seducer and therefore his fall from grace was a little less dramatic – this was nonetheless a performance full of good things, not least well-judged balance, the LSO strings wonderfully opulent and with some expressive wind-playing, not least from oboist Nora Cismondi.
Also sprach Zarathustra was prefaced with a reading of the Prologue from Nietzsche's text. A nice touch, but what a pity Samuel West's amplified voice was muffled. Harding went for restraint in the opening sunrise, a wise move as all-too-often the rest of the piece can sound an anticlimax. This was a meticulously prepared performance, Harding's understanding of structure was well-nigh perfect, each of the work’s sections unfolded naturally, and graduations of dynamics were meticulously controlled. There was a sensitive contribution too from leader Tomo Keller.
As the filling to the Strauss sandwich there was Hélène Grimaud's disappointing Ravel, an account that over-intellectualised what is a light and fun piece. Grimaud's playing in the first movement was full of pregnant pauses which hampered the flow, as it was in the opening solo to the second, as if she was searching for something that isn’t there. The rest of the Adagio was beautifully realised but Grimaud was less than comfortable in the jazz-inflected passages of the outer movements.