Notes and Editorial Reviews
Hélène Grimaud is a formidably talented artist with strong, sometimes willful interpretive ideas. In her note to this disc, which is best read while drunk or under the influence of some hallucinogenic substance, she talks a lot about death and other things; but whatever her motivation she plays both of these works with an eye to their darkness and brooding melancholy. Some listeners may feel this suits the Rachmaninov sonata better than the Chopin pieces, and indeed Grimaud has a tendency to turn Chopin into "Chopmaninov", offering the most unusual interpretation of the Second Sonata since Pletnev.
Much of the extraordinary weight that Grimaud brings to this perennial favorite stems from the rare
attention she gives to the left hand. The main theme of the allegro struggles (aptly, in my view) against its agitated accompaniment, and the scherzo takes off with sledgehammer articulation and bass lines etched in stone. You may well find the extremes of tempo in both movements (whenever something lyrical pops up) to be a bit much, but the funeral march is truly harrowing and relentless, as it must be. I also found Grimaud's take on the finale fascinating. Instead of the usual rush of even notes, she finds all kinds of patterns, suggestions, and bits of melody bobbing on the music's surface. It's very disturbing, and it caps an individual and extreme interpretation that will make you think. The two shorter works, a beautifully wistful Berceuse and a swiftly flowing, curiously edgy Barcarolle, prove equally probing.
Grimaud recorded a sensational Rachmaninov Second Sonata in its shorter, second version when she was only 15. That recording is currently on Brilliant Classics, and it still sounds terrific. This version is mostly the 1931 revision, but with a lot of the 1913 original restored, making it a hybrid that sounds like the later, leaner textures grafted onto the earlier, larger structure. Grimaud's interpretation, then, is unusually personal, not just in its details but even in its vision of the work as a whole, and it's very powerful--like the Chopin quite high-strung and very dramatic. Certainly she pegs the climaxes in the outer movements and offers a central lento whose rhapsodic freedom of phrasing never compromises the music's basic songfulness. She captures the finale's mercurial, emotional ambivalence about as well as anyone ever has.
The sonics, a touch hard in fortissimo, capture Grimaud's wide dynamic range well, though I really could do without the Glenn Gould-like vocalizing. I don't know why record producers don't tell the artists to keep quiet in front of the microphones, so I will: Hélène, darling, you're too good a pianist and too lousy a singer to ask your fans to put up with both. Stick to tickling the ivories. Music making this individual won't appeal to everyone, but I can only applaud Grimaud's thoughtfulness, risk-taking, and obvious command of both the keyboard and the musical text.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Piano no 2 in B flat minor, Op. 36 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Hélène Grimaud (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1913/1931; Russia
Date of Recording: 12/2004
Venue: Siemens-Villa, Berlin, Germany
Length: 23 Minutes 8 Secs.
Notes: Composition written: Russia (1913).
Composition revised: Russia (1931).
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