Hélène Grimaud at Royal Festival Hall – Resonances

Piano Sonata in A minor, K310
Piano Sonata, Op.1
Piano Sonata in B minorBartók
Romanian Folk Dances

Hélène Grimaud (piano)

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 23 November, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Hélène GrimaudFor this recital Hélène Grimaud offered the content of her latest Deutsche Grammophon release, “Resonances”, which is a musical journey, declares the pianist – works involving four very different composers, born in three different eras. Her catalyst was Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata. It concentrates in a single movement “everything that constitutes a Classical sonata movement” and, at the same time, “explores the very limits of tonality”. Equally, the historical links are fascinating: one can find echoes there of the past and pre-echoes of what is to come.

Hearing Grimaud’s Mozart was a strange experience. My first reaction was to declare: “this is wrong”. Mozart’s music – often darkly impassioned, momentarily – is nevertheless classical, requiring chiselled phrasing of steely elegance. Grimaud’s K310 was a flow of urgent, muted sorrow; her emotional pulse determined her phrasing. She was presenting the Sonata in three unusual guises: an emotional unity, deliberately playing the three movements in a cohering tone – the Allegro maestoso first-movement was less Classical than is usual; the Andante cantabile was less Romantic; and the finale was unashamedly inconsequential, wistful and melancholic – the end result was that ‘her’ K310 was, in effect, a one-movement sonata, thus giving us a concert largely comprising three such works, one each from the eighteenth-century, the nineteenth and the twentieth, and she suggested K310 as a precursor of the full-blooded, lush Romanticism to come – and a fit companion to Liszt and Berg.

Berg’s Sonata enjoys Colin Anderson’s astute appraisal of the recorded version, which I echo. The Liszt was magnificent, sound and performance doing justice to the towering work, a colossus of the keyboard. Grimaud’s mastery over the work – its every note, chord, mood- shift, style-shift and nuance – was riveting. She had a vibrantly-judged sense of the large and the small, the intimate and the grand, the imperious loud and the whispering soft, the complex and the simple, urgency and tranquillity, immediacy and peace. Above all, she enjoyed its adventure. Here was an eclectic performer at the height of her powers donating her considerable technique, intelligence and sensitivity to displaying the genius of one of the most eclectic composers of all time, and a great pianist to boot.

Bartók’s Romanian Dances was a spare, ear-cleansing afterword. Once more, Grimaud showed her musical perception, her respect for the music she is drawn to engage with. These odd-sounding fragments – awkward, quirky and abrasive – are nevertheless dances. Grimaud’s fingers danced – as they also became utterly simple and timeless in the Gluck aria (a Liszt arrangement?) she played as an encore.

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