Hélène Grimaud at Carnegie Hall

Repertoire listed in review

Helène Grimaud (piano)

3 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 1 December, 2022
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

For the first half of this recital, Hélène Grimaud revisited music explored in her 2018 album, Memory – eleven atmospheric miniatures by Debussy, Satie and Chopin, all resembling one another in color and texture, in dialogue with two exquisitely ethereal works by contemporary Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov. One of the most conspicuous aspects of the moving and mostly melancholic program was the purposeful ordering of the repertoire. And instead of distinct breaks between pieces, she used brief excerpts or variations of each piece to segue into the next. Through it all, her elegant, low-keyed style allowed the music to speak for itself without any affectation of dynamics, tempo or phrasing.

The concert opener, a supremely delicate rendition of Silvestrov‘s unassuming but uncommonly haunting Bagatelle I, immediately established a mood of nostalgia. From this she seamlessly shifted into the opening ripples of Debussy’s First Arabesque. Next came a memorable but more mournful offering, the second of Silvestrov’s Bagatelles, and then an alluring account of Satie’s hypnotic and spare-lined Gnossienne No.4.

After a gracefully gradated rendering of Chopin’s wistfully romantic E-minor Nocturne she played two pieces by Satie – a free-floating Gnossienne No.1 and a bittersweet interpretation of the gracefully simple ‘En y regardant à deux fois’ from his Pièces froides, No.2. Then came more Debussy – a gently flowing La plus que lente, a delicately spun Clair de Lune, and a surprisingly brisk-paced Rêverie – interspersed with Chopin’s E-minor Nocturne and A-minor Mazurka, both of which further intensified the dreamily romantic mood. With Satie’s brief and distinctly more upbeat ‘Passer’, another work from Pièces froides, No.2, the spellbinding, sumptuously played first half came to an end.

Following intermission, an energetic and passionate performance of Schumann’s Kreisleriana, an idiosyncratic cycle of eight fantasy pieces inspired by E. T. A. Hoffmann’s fictional Johannes Kreisler, constituting a love-letter in disguise to the composer’s beloved Clara. Grimaud delivered a dazzling display of abundant virtuosity and the contrasting passages of tender lyricism recalled earlier gentle and ruminative moods.

She offered four brilliantly executed encores, two by Rachmaninoff – Étude-tableaux in C and in C-sharp minor – Chopin’sEtude in F-minor (from Trois nouvelles études), and Silvestrov’s Bagatelle in E.

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