Hélène Grimaud

Reflection

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Love, like great musicianship, is not something that just happens. Sure, love at first sight is common enough. But love at first sight is comparatively easy; love over the long haul is much harder and must be nurtured. In this collection called Reflection, pianist Hélène Grimaud couples four works by three composers, and by their coupling and her performances, she attempts to persuade listeners that a folie d'amour is at the root of the music. The folie d'amour is a question that may -- or may not, scholars are divided and evidence is lacking -- have been shared by Robert Schumann, his wife Clara Schumann, and the youthful Johannes Brahms, and the works in question are the Piano Concerto by Robert, two songs by Clara, and the E minor Cello Sonata plus Two Rhapsodies by Brahms. But while there's no doubting the intensity of Grimaud's fervor, there's no believing that it'll be long lasting. With Esa-Pekka Salonen leading the Staatskapelle Dresden, Grimaud throws herself into Robert's concerto, ripping into the opening Allegro affetuoso's cadenza with palpable passion. But her attention seems to wander during the central Andantino grazioso and all that's left by the closing Allegro vivace is a race to the double bars. With mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, Grimaud hurls herself into the accompaniment of Clara's songs, but von Otter's consummate control and supreme artistry make Grimaud's heaving and sighing seem superficial. With cellist Truls Mørk, Grimaud sounds committed to a partnership in Brahms' sonata, but while the two performers are sometimes astoundingly together, they are more often interpretively so far apart as to be barely playing the same piece. Alone at last in the Two Rhapsodies, Grimaud seems intense but willful and easily distracted. While one cannot complain about her warm tone, her strong technique, or her emotional interpretations, one cannot deny the strong sense that Grimaud's heart and mind are already onto something else.

DG's sound is different for each performance -- a bit distant in the concerto, a tad close in the songs, a little blurred in the sonata, and a lot too loud in the Rhapsodies -- but it is always resolutely focused on Grimaud.

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