Deutsche Grammophon, 2017
Perspectives is a title that means more than one thing at the same time. Firstly, it refers to the different ways in which an artist approaches a composer or a work in the course of the career and the possible change of mind towards him or in the rendition of his work – something that, though the opinion on the outcome is influenced by sensibility and personal taste, is nonetheless desirable to happen as it is an unmistakable sign of growth and maturity. Secondly, Perspectives refers to the performer’s clarification of his or her own “philosophy” and of the correlations existing in the works of the same composer with the purpose to give a better, deeper interpretation.
These features stand out immediately in Hélène Grimaud’s Perspectives and the details that cannot be guessed from a performance are revealed in the quick but precise booklet notes. As Perspectives is not a new recording, but it collects several performances (both studio and live) from Hélène Grimaud’s previously released albums, the need of basic information about her own ideas is essential. This allows to clarify her opinion on a composer as Beethoven, who she considers “modern” for his «incredible vitality, this desire never to give up, and, of course, the philosophical dimension of his music», and to understand her return to Chopin after many years in which Brahms prevailed. For this reason, both composers are equally represented here with a Berceuse in D flat major, a Prelude in D flat major and the Grave. Doppio movimento from the Piano Sonata no. 2 in B flat minor (for Chopin) and the Waltz in A flat major, the Allegro appassionato from the Piano Concerto no. 2 in B flat major and the Rondo. Allegro non troppo from the Piano Concerto no. 1 in D minor (for Brahms). There is also the chance to understand Grimaud’s thought on a specific work and an explanatory note states that Grimaud feels that «effervescent, supposedly happy expression» of the finale of Mozart’s F major Concerto K459 «is sometimes bordering on hysteria: there’s something slightly unstable there».
Considering that Perspectives is a sort of “best of”, the logical succession of the pieces may be a little surprising, especially considering that they are taken from different eras so that, if Perspectives begins with a Prelude and Fugue by J. S. Bach, it includes also works written in the 20th century, as Bartók with his Romanian Folk Dances and Rachmaninov’s Piano Sonata no. 2 in B flat minor. The only clear distinction is that the first CD is dedicated to solo pieces and the second to piano concertos.
I think there is no mystery about the unifier spirit of Perspectives and it is Hélène Grimaud herself. The excerpts, some of them very long (this is usually the case of the movements from the concertos), are accurately chosen not only to create a connection among the pieces, but also to offer some of Grimaud’s best performances in which her inner fire and astounding technique shine at their best. The idea to open Perspectives with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue is absolutely right because this highly demanding piece, played by Grimaud with great determination, is hypnotic from the listener’s point of view and it is even better that, when this work is over, it is not followed by a completely different one, but by the stormy Allegretto from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 17 in D minor (“The Tempest”), in which there is another chance to appreciate Grimaud’s indomitable strength and skill. After this, we find Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances and their enthralling but definitely more “terrestrial” character allows Grimaud to realize “concrete” pictures.
It is impossible to summarize here all the features of the thirty-one pieces collected in Perspectives, but I would like to list Chopin’s Prélude in D flat major (“Raindrop”), that Grimaud performs with great lightness, the delicate colours of Debussy’s La Cathédrale engloutie, Brahms’s Waltz in A flat major and Grimaud’s exquisite melancholy, the nervous joy with which Grimaud plays Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 19 and the far more relaxed and sumptuous performance of Brahms’s Piano Concerto no. 2.
Other works by Bach, Chopin, Mozart, Brahms and Bartók are included in Perspectives together with compositions by Schumann, Liszt, Rachmaninov and Sgambati – works that are not less surprising and pleasing than those listed before and that I have left out because what I have written so far is enough to draw a conclusion on the recording. It offers a wonderful synthesis of Hélène Grimaud’s achievements and musical preferences and anyone who wants to have an overview of her artistry or who hears her for the first time will find Perspectives an authentic pleasure, filled with authoritative performances and heartfelt inspiration.