Listeners who are familiar with French pianist Hélène Grimaud will know instantly that every Grimaud recital becomes a memorable musical experience. Grimaud’s career took off after she took the first prize at the Paris Conservatory and has subsequently featured some unusual takes on traditional (and not so traditional) repertoire. Part of the Grimaud mystique has been fueled by her synesthesia through which she sees music as colors. Colors assigned to each piece form the basis for a rather unusual and eclectic recital of the following works:
- John Corigliano: Fantasia on an Ostinato (1985) (12:04)
- Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, Op.31/No. 2 “The Tempest” (1802) (21:58)
- Ludwig van Beethoven: Fantasia for piano, chorus, and orchestra in C Minor, Op. 80, “Choral Fantasy” (1808/09) (19:03)
- Arvo Part: “Credo” for piano, mixed choir and orchestra (1968) (15:16)
The liner notes, containing an interview with pianist Grimaud, inform us that this program was centered around the Beethoven Choral Fantasy, leading to the piano sonata, then Corigliano’s Fantasia that contains a theme from the Seventh Symphony. Part’s Credo, using similar forces as the Beethoven Fantasia, looks backward to the religion-themed music of Bach.
It is likely that at least two of the items on this program will be unfamiliar to most listeners, but the Beethoven theme comes quite early in the Fantasia, and echoes of Bach begin and end Part’s Credo. What might be a revelation to newer listeners is the Beethoven Choral Fantasy that proved to be a sketch for the mighty Ninth (“Choral”) Symphony.
Compared to a number of High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-ray releases in the Universal Music series, this one is relatively recent having been recorded in 2003. The overall sound, particularly that of the solo piano, verge on the magnificent with full-bodied overtones of the sounding board beautifully presented and offering excellent dynamics. On the solo pieces, the miking is pretty close (you can actually hear Grimaud taking breaths). The choral parts are clear (the vocal forces appear relatively modest in size) and both of these pieces stem from live recordings in Stockholm’s Berwaldhallen. While the on-screen menu suggests that these recordings are available in 192kHz/24-bit resolution, my Oppo BDP-105 suggests otherwise that, like other Blu-ray Audios, these are 96kHz/24-bit recordings.
The program booklet has a background essay by Grimaud and a transcribed interview between the pianist and Michael Church who also contributes brief notes on each work.
The Definitive Word
I have yet to hear a Hélène Grimaud recording that did not open up my ears to new facets of familiar works that I thought I knew well and this one is no exception. Some have compared her ability to “see” things in music (that were invisible to others) to the great Canadian pianist Glenn Gould who blew open the doors to Bach’s keyboard music with his 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations. What this artist brings to her audience is the exciting sense of taking risk with interpretations or repertory that are out of most other pianists’ comfort zones. Because she has the requisite talent to pull this off, we are given a fabulous recital that demands repeated hearing. It took a good bit of intestinal fortitude to include an avant-garde work like Credo to a program with some rather “safe” choices. Beginning and ending with the “Ave Maria” theme, it is a fast voyage through chaos that comes out intact and is incredibly moving. Risk-taking aside, this is a disc that will stay with listeners long after the program ends and is well worth seeking out.
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