Hélène Grimaud

Barcarolle, Op.60
Berceuse, Op.57
Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, Op.35
Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, Op.35 (edited Grimaud)

Hélène Grimaud (piano)

Reviewed by: Diarmuid Dunne

Reviewed: 9 February, 2005
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Hélène Grimaud opened this recital mirroring her latest CD release with Chopin’s Barcarolle, and from the offset it was obvious there was something a little askew. Technical weaknesses were evident and perhaps due to their confidence-sapping nature the performance became dominated by jarring phrases and an overly demonstrative approach that simply does not work with this music. Chopin’s Berceuse fared little better being played brashly and unevenly, wholly lacking in sensitivity, and a far cry from the gently rocking soundworld this piece normally engenders.

Grimaud began Chopin’s B flat minor Sonata in an agitated manner, and technical uncertainty seemed to propel her into a rather carefree, improvisatory mood, which for a while worked as; she became more immersed and convincing in the first movement’s second theme. But technique was shaky towards the end and continued into the scherzo where she seemed particularly unsettled. An inexcusable flash-photograph from near the front of the stalls would have distracted even the most committed performer and Grimaud is to be applauded for her lack of reaction in the succeeding ‘Marche funèbre’, the movement itself marked by a sweetly played lyrical middle section flanked by poorly played and rather idiosyncratic outer sections. The enigmatic finale was light but not wholly ineffective.

Grimaud is capable of much greater things, but every musician has days when things don’t quite work. There is nowhere to hide … and things did pick up a little in the Rachmaninov, Grimaud playing her own edition based on Rachmaninov’s 1931 revision and including aspects of the 1913 original. Horowitz did something similar, which the composer approved, and Grimaud has made different choices. Although her technique remained below par, Grimaud’s impetuous approach fared a lot better here than in the Chopin. A bout of concentration brought some conviction in the first movement and the dreamy romanticism of the second movement was quite affecting, but the virtuoso final movement was sloppy, with over-use of the pedal to blur tricky passages.

Three Rachmaninov encores was slightly shameless, but the near-hyperbolic audience adored it all.

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