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Album review: BBC Music Magazine

Under her hands all the pleasures of this portmanteau work emerge vividly: the passion of the opening movement and the breathless eagerness of the second; the dips into deep inwardness and the witty syncopations of the finale, which Grimaud makes deliciously sexy.

For Clara (Krimmel/Grimaud)

Konstantin Krimmel (baritone), Hélène Grimaud (piano) (DG)

For Clara
R Schumann: Kreisleriana, Op. 16; Brahms: Lieder, Op. 32
Konstantin Krimmel (baritone), Hélène Grimaud (piano)
DG 486 4202   69:17 mins 

Piano specialists may regard the addition of a baritone voice on this album as an intrusion, but actually this performance of Brahms’s Lieder und Gesänge is what makes it special. And it points to a moment in 19th-century cultural history which we in the 21st would do well to remember: that in Brahms’s day many German writers were not only well versed in medieval Persian poetry, but also translated a lot of it.

Konstantin Krimmel’s light and flexible baritone is well suited to the nine songs in question, in that he brings out the subtlety of the thoughts and images; love and loss are the leitmotifs, but they are treated with a sophistication comparable to that of English metaphysical poetry of the 17th century. Brahms’s settings are comparably exquisite – and profoundly moving – so it’s rather unfortunate that these recordings sometimes let the piano drown the singer.

But Hélène Grimaud herself is very much on form with this album. Apart from one movement – the penultimate one, which goes faster than I have ever heard it – her interpretations of Kreisleriana are conventional. Yet her pianistic voice is highly distinctive, and blessedly free of quirks or attention-seeking eccentricities. Under her hands all the pleasures of this portmanteau work emerge vividly: the passion of the opening movement and the breathless eagerness of the second; the dips into deep inwardness and the witty syncopations of the finale, which Grimaud makes deliciously sexy. Her account of the three Op. 117 Intermezzi has a rapt, valedictory quality which lingers in the mind long after the last notes have sounded.

Michael Church

Michael Church

Journalist and Critic, BBC Music Magazine

Michael Church was one of the founding editors of the Independent on Sunday. He is a former television critic of The Times, and since 2010 he has been music and opera critic of The Independent. He has made BBC World Service programmes on folk music in many countries.

For Clara (Krimmel/Grimaud)

Konstantin Krimmel (baritone), Hélène Grimaud (piano) (DG)

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