CD of the Week: French pianist Helene Grimaud and her close encounters with Brahms
The pianist Helene Grimaud is garnering increasing attention from fans and critics. Her 2012 release, Duo, with cellist Sol Gabetta, is regularly heard on KBIA and was recently nominated for a Grammy. On her latest effort, Brahms: The Piano Concertos, the French-born pianist presents a pair of works for piano and orchestra by 19th century Romantic era composer Johannes Brahms. Each piece is lengthy, with both concertos presented on a separate CD. Grimaud's latest release was recorded in late 2012 in Munich and Vienna and released this past September on the German art music label Deutche Gramophon.
The first work on Grimaud’s new two-CD release is Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, op. 15. The performance pairs Grimaud with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. In each of the work’s three movements, Grimaud carves out her own space between soaring orchestral arrangements. In the first movement of opus 15, the pianist repeatedly sets a tone and pace that is picked up on and expanded by the Munich-based orchestra.
The second disc serves up a refreshing new take on Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, op. 83, written a full 22 years after his first piano concerto. Here, Grimaud plays Brahms’ opus 83 with the Vienna Philharmonic. In the first movement, the orchestra introduces a melancholic mood that Grimaud joins in on. The movement builds to a crescendo then settles into a sound especially evocative of the lyrical Romanticism so characteristic of the 19th century German composer Brahms.
In the liner notes to her new release, Grimaud admits a long-standing attraction to the music and the legend surrounding Johannes Brahms. She admits to a pair of images in her mind when she thinks of the composer Brahms:
I see two contrasting portraits of Brahms: the first, a strikingly handsome young man with a proud blond mane, glistening dark eyes and the shadow of a shy, knowing smile; the second, an older man stuffed into a rumpled suit, a greying beard hiding his features, his eyes downcast in some kind of ambivalent contemplation.
Each encounter with Brahms enriches my love for his music, and this project has certainly heightened my sense of identification with the composer and, in a way, sharpened the detail of those two pictures of Brahms I hold in my mind - drawing the duality into closer harmony.