Reflection – Hélène Grimaud

0 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54
Clara Schumann
Three Lieder [Er ist gekommen, Op.12/2; Warum willst du and’re fragen, Op.12/11; Am Strande]
Cello Sonata No.1 in E minor, Op.38
Two Rhapsodies, Op.79

Hélène Grimaud (piano)

Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano)

Truls Mørk (cello)

Staatskapelle Dresden
Esa-Pekka Salonen

Concerto and sonata recorded in May 2005 in the Lukaskirche, Dresden; Songs in September 2005 in Scoring Stage, Berlin; Rhapsodies in June 2000 in Teldex Studios, Berlin

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: January 2006
CD No: DG 477 5719
Duration: 80 minutes

38 years after they first met, Johannes Brahms wrote to Clara Schumann: “…you and your husband are the most beautiful experience of my life and represent its greatest treasure and its noblest moments.”

This release, “Reflection”, celebrates three composers: Robert Schumann, who married Clara Wieck, 9 years his junior – and Johannes Brahms, 23 years Robert’s junior. When they first met, Johannes was 20, Robert 43 and Clara 34. Robert died 3 years later.

Hélène Grimaud honours these creators. She declares that the passion inherent to their loving friendship freed them – through their music – to express their uniqueness.

Grimaud first recorded Schumann’s Piano Concerto in her twenties, with DSO Berlin and David Zinman; her performance was arresting. Now, in her thirties, it is she who pulls the shots – aided by orchestral playing that suits the concerto’s intimacy and a lithe, adroit Salonen (brisk and matter of fact).

Grimaud is a musical princess, playing with consummate, vigorous femininity. She leaps with the pounce and weight of a wolf and contrasts this with refined and vulnerable playing of gossamer, fleeting delicacy. Each phrase is poetry itself – holding its own magic and caress. Her rubato is exquisite – slight and glancing, unexpected yet natural, delicately telling. Always, the music flows on – she finds its momentum.

Grimaud’s decision to limit her repertoire pays off. Ten years’ space to live closely with this work has readied her to craft a marvel. Resplendently and undoubtedly, she is now (2005) mistress of this work. Even Lipatti sounds wooden beside her. She has also been unfortunate in her conductors, though. Barenboim and Celibidache found rapport when playing this work. Grimaud deserves no less. (Listen to the magic of her Bartók Third with Boulez.)

Clara Schumann’s Lieder are vigorous and lyrical; the piano part is demanding. Anne Sofie von Otter struggles a little in the first song “Er ist gekommen”. The vocal line relents for the other songs, letting Otter do what she does best – charm us with soft, creamy, long-lined lyricism. Grimaud gives the accompaniment its swirling due.

What follows is incomparable. Grimaud partners Truls Mørk in Brahms’s E minor Cello Sonata. It is as if they had been playing together for years. They commit themselves to Brahms’s volatile, ardent muse as one – moving from dominant to supporting roles, as if exchanging batons in a relay; picking up mood switches immediately and assuredly – and playing transitions as if each had access to the other’s pulse. The lyricism of each musician seizes the heart. Furthermore, they allow the particular nature of Brahms’s energy – his driving yet unhurried momentum – to surge quite naturally. This is rare – to hear this composer’s robust vigour and exalted splendour fully and magnificently.

Grimaud’s playing of Brahms’s 2 Rhapsodies has a grandeur all its own.

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