Hélène Grimaud & LSO Chamber Ensemble

Cello Sonata No.1 in E minor, Op.38
Clarinet Sonata in E flat, Op.120/2
Piano Quintet in E flat, Op.44

Hélène Grimaud (piano) with Members of LSO Chamber Ensemble: Tim Hugh (cello), Andrew Marriner (clarinet), Boris Garlitsky (violin), Evgeny Grach (violin) & Paul Silverthorne (viola)

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 6 May, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Recently, Hélène Grimaud has spoken of playing Brahms’s cello sonatas with Truls Mørk – in private. For her most recent CD, “Reflection”, she and Mørk played the first of these sonatas in the studio. At this recital, however, she participated in a chamber-music performance – in public. This is a new venture for her, as far as I know, and one in which she shone resplendently, not merely accompanying her fellow musicians but partnering them.

Grimaud had an exquisite sense of balance between instruments. In no climax did she overpower her partner. She knew when to defer to cello or clarinet and when to retreat to allow the other instrument dominance and when to play in counterpoint (i.e. as equal partner). She caressed or pronounces phrases in freer idiom only when the writing required that she asserted her piano.

Her fellow musicians all hold responsible and distinguished posts in the London Symphony Orchestra. We heard Principal Cellist Tim Hugh, Principal Clarinet Andrew Marriner, a guest Leader, Boris Garlitsky, Principal Second Violin Evgeny Grach and Principal Viola Paul Silverthorne.

These members of the LSO Chamber Ensemble are distinguished working musicians and – just as significant – used to listening to each other. In their rendering of the Schumann, I sensed a more acute sense of ensemble than I was likely to have received from four string players playing together for the first time.

On display, so to speak, were the near-beginning of Brahms and his end – the First Cello Sonata and the Second Clarinet Sonata (the Opus 120 pair also with a viola option). Tim Hugh had the measure of the younger man – his passion, his challenging adventurousness, his melody, his classicism, his romance and his nonchalant-seeming virtuosity. This is forward-looking music – the rest of Brahms’s life was to come and he needed to put his mark upon it.

Andrew Marriner lyrically conveyed the older man emerging from retirement: somewhat wistful, simple and beyond caring to impress. There was a spark of the younger man though – in the fifth variation of the last movement and the vital close. Both performances gave deeply satisfying pleasure. Each was a right thing well done – consummately, gently, modestly, in service to the music’s inner glow.

The Schumann flowed magisterially and vigorously. Yet its edgy grandeur never quite managed to displace its innate and vulnerable undertow. In the opening, Grimaud was there – and her individual Schumann touch melts the soul – but this was Tim Hugh’s movement: his repeated and surging fragility won the heart. The march-like second movement belonged to Paul Silverthorne – a viola-toned march to a scaffold of the emotions. In the finale, after a mercurial scherzo, Grimaud’s return of the opening theme shone like silver. The ending fugato asserted togetherness.

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